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Gravity: Johannes Fischer – Percussion
Iannis XENAKIS (1922-2001)

Rebonds A, for solo percussion (1987-89) [7:25]
José Manuel López LÓPEZ (b. 1956)

Calculo secreto, for vibraphone (1995) [10:18]
Matthias PINTSCHER (b. 1971)

nemeton, for solo percussion (2007) [16:35]
Jacob DRUCKMAN (1928-96)

Reflections on the Nature of Water, for solo marimba (1986) [18:01]
Vinko GLOBOKAR (b. 1934)

Toucher, for solo percussion (Text: Bertolt Brecht) (1973) [9:36]
Iannis XENAKIS (1922-2001)

Rebonds B, for solo percussion (1987-89) [5:35]
Johannes Fischer (percussion)
rec. 11-13 December 2007, Studio 2, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Munich, Germany
OEHMS CLASSICS DEBUT OC 716
[68:15]
Experience Classicsonline


It’s always good to see record companies devoting time to up-and-coming artists; EMI Classics has its bargain-price Debut series and now Oehms Classics is following suit. Here we have a disc of solo percussion pieces from the past 25 years or so, played by the German percussionist Johannes Fischer (b. 1981). He has won a number of awards, culminating in a first prize at the 56th ARD International Music Competition in Munich. Fischer is also a composer and part-time lecturer at the Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano.

The disc’s title, Gravity, is best explained by Fischer himself: ‘This is the art of leaving the greater part of the active movement to the dead weight of our drumsticks ... Such playing with gravity thus becomes a game we play with and around sound itself.’ A slender premise, perhaps, but the rhythmic, rebounding beats of Xenakis’s Rebonds A and Rebonds B are certainly appropriate in this context.

For pieces written in the late 1980s they sound as if they belong to the 1960s or 1970s; indeed, Fischer’s lengthy treatise in the CD booklet is also reminiscent of the avant-garde habit of devoting plenty of column inches to what is often a fairly simple musical conceit. In the event both pieces have a sharp, mesmeric energy – Rebonds B especially – the recording warm and vibrant. It’s analytical too, so one easily registers the impact of stick on skin and the resonance of the drum.

Resonances also play a part in Calculo secreto, by the contemporary Spanish composer José Manuel López López. The piece opens with the first in a series of magical arpeggios which are left to resonate before being reinvigorated. The quieter passages – sample from 2:30 onwards – are warm and fluid, contrasting with more spectral episodes. The range of sonorities Fischer extracts from his vibraphone is just astonishing, making for a most atmospheric and entertaining musical journey. As an aside this is a good piece for auditioning hi-fi equipment, as it will test speakers’ ability to reproduce complex tones and overtones.

At nearly 17 minutes the German composer-conductor Matthias Pintscher’s nemoton is by far the longest item here. Apparently the title is derived from the old Celtic word for places where druids worshipped. In contrast to the overtly ritualistic nature of Rebonds this is altogether more mysterious; the music radiates outwards from a still, devotional centre, like ripples in a pond. It’s wonderfully varied, with ever-changing dynamics, timbres and melodic fragments. The recording is exemplary, picking up all the tiny nuances of Fischer’s playing.

The muted drum beats of nemoton are particularly arresting, as are all those flashing arpeggios that surround points of repose. There is a sense of constant evolution here, of structures added to and extended to make an all-encompassing musical whole. This sheer inventiveness and rhythmic vitality – sample the passage beginning at 5:45 – ensures the piece doesn’t sag or wander. It ends as it began, with a return to that moment of profound quietude, that ‘still point of the turning world’. Highly effective and strangely captivating.

The American composer Jacob Druckman’s six-movement Reflections on the Nature of Water is an excellent vehicle for marimba players keen to show off the different qualities of their instrument. Crystalline is clear but not too hard-edged, with some highly unusual sonorities to boot, while Fleet is suitably elusive and fast flowing. The third movement, Tranquil, has an insistent motif around which the music builds and to which it seems to return. Fischer’s control of dynamics and rhythm seems entirely natural, the piece sounding fresh and spontaneous in his hands.

The last three movements – Gently swelling, Profound and Relentless – are surprisingly pianistic in conception. Sample the shimmering start to Profound, for instance, which has a warm, Romantic allure that’s hard to resist. And how about 2:20 onwards, which leads into a dark, swirling figure and some rather haunting passages that resonate in the mind long after they have passed. A lovely wistful movement this, followed by some crisp and forthright playing in Relentless. Once again the recording is clear and well balanced.

The Slovenian composer Vinko Globokar’s Toucher is the earliest piece in this collection. Written for seven percussion instruments – chosen by the soloist – the only instruction is to match the musical sounds with the vowels and consonants of the spoken text. Given the title of this disc it’s no surprise the selected passages come from Brecht’s Life of Galileo Galilei.

As with Rebonds, Globokar’s piece strikes me as somewhat dated, typical of the musical ethos of the 1970s. That said Fischer does a pretty good job at approximating these vowels/consonants on his instruments, with the word ‘Galilei’ and short vocal fragments set between these longer musical ‘sentences’. Quirky, I suppose, but not terribly memorable.

If you enjoy percussion programmes this disc will surely appeal. It’s not the kind of extrovert, charismatic music-making you might expect from, say, Evelyn Glennie, but Fischer is a thoughtful and intelligent musician who deserves to be heard. Definitely one to watch.

Dan Morgan


 


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