First there was Elżbieta (Elizabeth) Chojnacka and now there
is Gośka Isphording. Elżbieta Chojnacka created an enviable
and well deserved reputation as one of the finest interpreters
of modern music on the harpsichord. Works have been written specifically
for her by, amongst others, Ligeti, Zennakis and Nyman. Now another
Polish harpsichordist of a younger generation, Gośka Isphording,
has picked up the baton, playing – and commissioning – works for
the instrument by many contemporary composers, who include Katarzyna
Głowicka, Mariusz Dubaj, Anna S. Thorvaldsdottir and Anna Jędrzejewska -
not to mention some of the compositions represented on the present
Isphording - who
doesn’t appear to have made any previous appearance in these
pages - studied in Krakow and at the Royal Conservatory of the
Hague. She then studied for a postgraduate degree in contemporary
harpsichord techniques at the Conservatory in Amsterdam. She
combined this with work at the Mozarteum in Salzburg – where
her teacher was Chojnacka.
Now based in the
Netherlands, Isphording is active both as a soloist and as a
member of the chamber group The Roentgen Connection. On the
present, thoroughly stimulating CD she plays some pieces first
written for Chojnacka as well as some of her own commissions.
Hannah Kulenty studied
with Włodzimierz Kotoński and Louis Andriessen and
her ‘E for E’ was written for Elżbieta Chojnacka in 1991.
It is a dazzling toccata-like creation, full of energy and aggression
and gets an exhilarating performance from Isphording. ‘Płonący
kryształ’ (‘Le cristal flamboyant’) by Zbigniew Bargielski
was also written for Elżbieta Chojnacka, who gave the first
performance in Salzburg in 2002. It is one of two pieces on
this disc which make use of pre-recorded tape as well as harpsichord.
If I understand Bargielski’s brief note in the booklet correctly,
the soloist has a certain freedom in how exactly he or she relates
the harpsichord part to the electronic sound on the tape. The
piece starts off rather broodily and becomes predominantly meditative,
incorporating some lovely bell-like textures at one point; some
of the harpsichord writing has a quasi-baroque quality, some
is more obviously modern; gradually the interplay between harpsichord
and electronic tape gets tenser and the piece takes on a fiercely
percussive quality. This is a rewarding, satisfyingly complex
piece. Marta Ptaszyńska’s ‘Touracou’, by way of contrast,
has a kind of programmatic dimension which establishes (in purpose,
if not in style) a connection with baroque pieces such as Rameau’s
‘La Poule’ or ‘Le rappel des oiseaux’, since the touracou is
a species of African bird, adorned with a brightly coloured
crest, and predominantly bright red and green in colour. Ptaszyńska’s
piece is appropriately full of sparkle and tonal colour, with
repeated changes of registration. A delightful miniature!
‘Chromatic Fantasy’ - which carries the puzzling subtitle ‘The
Son is Scrumptious’ - is almost entirely built on a single five
note motive, which is subjected to many changes and transpositions;
the resulting piece begins quite simply and builds to a many-layered
structure of considerable complexity. Isphording’s performance
– and the piece was commissioned by her – is a model of clarity
(aided by an impressively clear recorded sound), successfully
elucidating many of the fugal and contrapuntal complexities.
In ‘Reflection No.2’, Marcel Chyrzyński has written a single
movement piece which yet has three distinct phases, a slow section,
a fast section and a coda which reuses some of the material
from the opening section; the whole is marked by many emphatic
accents and repetitions which build up a compelling momentum.
Aleksandra Gryka’s ‘Nonstopping’ was written with Gośka
Iphording in mind, at a time when Fryka was still a student
in Krakow - she studied composition there with Krystyna Moszumańska-Nazar.
Gryka’s note observes “The title refers mainly to the construction
… but what it exactly means, I’d rather not say”. In an engaging
piece full of strong rhythms there are moments when one is tempted
to take the title as some kind of railway reference!
Zygmunt Krauze’s ‘Commencement’
was written in Vienna in January 1982 – the date matters because
it follows on shortly from the imposition of martial law in Poland.
The piece’s nature and purpose is so well described by the composer
that it seems sensible to quote his words, rather than reduce
them to paraphrase: “The music expresses dramatic circumstances
connected with it [i.e. the imposition of martial law] and feelings
of powerless anger towards the political regime. The piece is
like a scream for help, which never arrives. Commencement
is based on one short rhythmical-melodic motive, continuously
repeated and transformed. At the beginning the motive is presented
in high register and then gradually goes lower and lower until
the end of the piece”. This was another piece written for Elżbieta
Chojnacka, who gave the premiere in Paris in 1982. It is hard,
though, to believe that she could have made more of its bleakness
and sense of confinement than Gośka Iphording does. This
is disturbing listening … and with good reason. Gośka Iphording
closes her programme with the second work written for harpsichord
and tape: Włodzimierz Kotoński’s ‘Aurora Borealis’ -
something of an odd one out in this programme, since it was commissioned,
and first performed, by the Japanese harpsichordist Michiyo Honma.
There is rather less ‘dialogue’ between taped sound and harpsichordist
than there is in Bargielski’s ‘Le crystal flamboyant’. Here the
taped sound (apparently it is actually on CD!) provides a background
rather than a dialogic partner. This is another piece which has
a programmatic element, offering as it does, amongst other things,
an attempt to create a kind of aural evocation of the Northern
Lights. There is some virtuosic keyboard work by Isphording and
some fascinating moments of ‘rhyme’, as it were, between pre-recorded
electronic sound and harpsichord. This is an impressive and striking
piece, and it rounds off an exciting and challenging programme.