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Recordings of the Month


From Ocean’s Floor


Conner Riddle Songs

Rodzinski Sibelius

Of Innocence and Experience


Symphonies 1, 2, 3


CD: MDT AmazonUK

Michel van der AA (b. 1970)
Here Trilogy
Here [enclosed] (2003) [16:33]
Here [in circles] (2002) [14:30]
Here [to be found] (2001) [17:57]
Claron McFaddon (soprano);
Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra/Peter Eötvös (enclosed); Etienne Siebens (in circles; to be found)
rec. MCO, Hilversum, Netherlands 6-7 April 2004; 21-22 June 2005; 23-24 June, 2005. DDD

Experience Classicsonline

The inside front of the 'digipak' carrying the single CD - less than 50 minutes in duration - containing Michel Van der Aa's Here Trilogy has a quote:
Should I breathe the muddied night air?
Tear the light curve off its asymptote?
In geometry, an asymptote of a curve is a line where the distance between the curve and the line approaches zero as each reaches infinity; but can never touch it. This characterises one of 40 year-old Dutch composer, Van der Aa's, preoccupations: the relationships between reality and appearance and the way in which - musically - such perceived proximity can (must) be explored. For the composer, music is more than organised or structured sound. It's a form of expression - perhaps regardless of the consequences. And in increasingly theatrical, dramatic and even spectacular ways; though where the drama is always controlled and rational.
Van der Aa's original training was as a recording engineer at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague; an early influence was Louis Andriessen. Add to this an emphasis on chords and rhythm in his music and it comes as little surprise that it should be almost impressionistic. If it were poetry, Imagist - blocks of sound and voice, but certainly nothing like Messiaen. Subtle shifts in tonality and a constant sense of progression from one sure-footed musical evocation to another. This is carried off with an uncanny sense that each is inevitable, the only possible transition to be made.
The Here Trilogy shares some musical material with the composer's chamber opera, One, which also concentrates on a sole person's search for her self. In the present work soprano Claron McFaddon strikes a subtle - if at times almost strained - balance between Sprechgesang and purely lyrical intonation of two short but intense poems by the composer, from which the quotation comes. For all its basis in abstraction, the work is also highly present and immediate.
Only semi-metaphorical is the topos of the branch that snaps in the cold. To be heard repeatedly throughout the music (indeed its sound is almost taken for a surface fault on the CD: it isn't), its crisp, 'one-way' sound is intentionally symbolic of alienation, detachment - derangement and even anger. If the music makes any impact on you at all, that will surely be an appreciation of how subtly and unobtrusively Van der Aa blends such an extramusical idea with a highly tuneful - though neither tonal nor melodic - musical landscape. And the drama, the tension between what's obvious, visible and unambiguous, and what is actually happening, never lets up. You hear it in McFaddon's articulation, in the shifting palette of instrumental colours, which is strong on strings, then woodwind, lastly brass with little percussion. And when the CD has come to its calm, satisfying end, you're aware that such tensions are rarely resolved; only accommodated.
Each of the three parts of the trilogy is shot through with the same 11 chords. Here [enclosed] is for chamber orchestra and soundtrack which implies - though never exaggerates - musical containment. Sound plays acoustically fencing-in roles. Here [in circles] is the heart of the trilogy. It's fragile, tactile, tentative yet not fragmented. Here [to be found] is more than an epilogue, yet fulfils its function. By now the urge both to break out of containment and to accept the discrepancies, the dichotomies, between ego and world, between continuity and event, between appearance and reality seems to be itself contained in the music. At its very end there is a kind of rest, repose, resolution. But it's one which, one knows, Van der Aa would have us recognise and acknowledge was there all along.
The music is not timeless, floating, vapour-like - as early Ligeti was - nor minimalist. That's one of its many strengths. It's full of incident. It relies on incident. It is just that the rationale for incidence is so concentrated and devoid of spurious emotional overlay that the impact is considerable.
So, this is dense, conceptual, experimental and at times unnerving music. The understanding, playing and projection of the Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra under Eötvös and Siebens render it entirely approachable and, after a couple of hearings, almost familiar. For all the 'freeze' imagery, their interpretation avoids sound-painting. For all the drama, and often verbal drama too, they avoid histrionics or overt reference where those would detract. The best image might perhaps be that the musicians - in the only recording of this intriguing work - recreate everything you expect to see in a cracked and tarnished mirror, exactly as it is; but without ever having access either to what the mirror originally reflected, or to its unbroken state. New music at its impactful and memorable best.
Mark Sealey

Michel Van der Aa - Spaces of Blank (Disquiet DQM01)






































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