Einojuhani RAUTAVAARA (b.1928)
Toccata Op.59 (1971) [6:44]
Sofia GUBAIDULINA (b.1931)
Hell und dunkel (1976) [7:41]
Arvo PÄRT (b.1935)
Mein Weg hat Gipfel und Wellentäler (1988) [8:05]
Laudatio Trinitatis (1969) [9:19]
Annum per annum (1980) [7:34]
Ta tou theou Op.30 (1967) [11:38]
Pari Intervallo (1976) [5:31]
Henryk GORECKI (1933-2010)
Kantata Op.26 (1968) [15:53]
Kevin Bowyer (organ)
rec. May-June 1999, Chapel of St. Augustine, Tonbridge School, Kent
NIMBUS NI 5675 [78:43]
Arvo Pärt understandably has top billing for this stimulating recital of 20th century organ works, but don’t be deceived. If you are expecting a disc of spiritual reflectiveness you will be in for a shock. Rautavaara’s Toccata opens with a blistering fortissimo, and while the piece is highly idiomatic for organ with plenty of flourishes and drama, you will find tonal ambiguity, clusters and angularity, all of which make for quite a demanding opening. His Laudatio Trinitatis later on in the programme also opens powerfully, the ‘Praise of the Trinity’ expressed in terms which are darkly evocative rather than celebratory in the outer movements. The more gentle upward reaching parallel chords of the central Et Filii are reminiscent of early Messiaen. ‘That which is from God’ or ta tou theou is a prizewinning work which has its affiliations with Laudatio Trinitatis, and while there are some pointers towards Messiaen’s influence Rautavaara’s serial techniques create an entirely different overall effect. This is a rugged and at times enigmatically mysterious landscape, which makes spectacular demands on the performer.
Sofia Gubaidulina’s Hell und dunkel or ‘light and dark’ is another powerful work, which explores some fascinating sonorities from the organ. Close intervals and dissonance are conjoined with quasi-playful trills and runs, and dramatic gestures create the effect of ripping holes in the air. Also using close intervals but in an entirely different way, Arvo Pärt’s Mein Weg hat Gipfel und Wellentäler also appears in an orchestral version on excellent the ECM ‘In Principio’ album , and is a fairly lively layering of material played at different speeds, a typical and highly effective technique of Pärt’s, whose shifting patterns create almost coincidental sounding harmonic relationships, invariably transcending the mechanical initial conception and structure. Trivium or ‘three ways’ has a medieval, plainsong feel in what is in fact an original melody. This actual melodic shape isn’t immediately apparent due to the register used in the first section, but once the ear tunes in it appears from within the texture of the ranging upper chords, strong in the central section, and quieter again towards the end.
Annum per annum is another of Pärt’s works which creates the atmosphere of medieval ritual, while simultaneously bringing us music for our own time. The opening and conclusion are certainly unexpected, the first a full blast of the organ and the last a mighty crescendo on a single open interval, with the central five movements a set of variations on the same material, the letter names given as titles for each representing the Mass sections to which they correspond. Pari Intervallo is music pared-down to its essence: a progression which barely moves, but still holding a mighty emotive power. Written on the occasion of the death of a friend, it is a dark statement which nonetheless holds out hope and a sense of eternity – its position on the programme all the more poignant for being placed directly before a work by a composer we have recently lost.
The final work is Henryk Górecki’s Kantata, described in Christopher Bowers-Broadbent’s booklet notes as ‘tough and uncompromising’. Long before the days of the famous ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’, Górecki was an avant-garde force to be reckoned with, and this piece is a monumental, granite-like work filled for the first four and penultimate five or so minutes with block chords of impenetrable density. The central section is one of low grumbles, the pedals drawing out portentous sonorities which are relieved only momentarily by vocal comments from what sounds like a bassoon stop. These low textures also conclude the work, certainly leaving us sadder and possibly making us wiser.
As ever with Kevin Bowyer’s performances this is a superbly played programme, and the Nimbus recording is also vivid and deep. Perhaps Pari Intervallo is a tad less elegant and reflective than Bowers-Broadbent’s recording on ECM’s ‘Arbos’ album of Arvo Pärt’s music, but having all of these pieces together on one disc is a useful idea, showing sides of the composer both familiar and surprising.
Stimulating and impressive, but only partly Pärt.