Double Nocturne (2009-10) [9:55]
Nocturne Fragments (2010) [22:00]
Nachtlied (Second Nocturne) (2008) [9:43]
Third Nocturne (2009) [10:16]
Nocturne/Doubles (2002) [6:02]
Night Falls (Nocturne Loops) (2010) [7:03]
Ruth Neville and Daniel Koppelman (pianists)
rec, 22-24 May 2010, Camp Concert Hall, Modlin Center for the Arts, University of Richmond, Richmond, Virginia.
INNOVA 784 [62:37]
As you might expect from something so entirely wrapped up with the ‘Nocturne’ concept, these pieces are steeped in atmosphere and mystery. Composer Benjamin Broening and pianist Daniel Koppelman have a long-standing creative relationship, and this recording is the latest manifestation of a collaboration which has resulted in performances throughout the US and Europe.
The pieces are all interconnected, and the playing order is interspersed with the shorter movements of Nocturne Fragments. Listening as a whole, each work’s related character and familial relationships are clear enough, even through the technical details probably won’t be. The booklet notes describe this very well indeed: “Recombinant Nocturnes all share the same musical DNA: materials, gestures, fragments drift from one piece to another in the set, constantly recombining in new ways to create music that ranges from delicate tintinnabulations at the threshold of audibility to passages of explosive virtuosity.” The online blurb the CD suggests you “try playing the disc on shuffle mode [to] hear some new and beautiful transitions between movements and pieces [and] new musical connections.” This is an interesting and not necessarily positive aspect to the programme. If one was inclined to be cynical, then the heedless ‘who gives a damn’ option for shuffling this music any which way might just serve to confirm an opinion about its apparently shapeless meandering.
There is an almost inevitable comparison to be made with Messiaen in some of the pianistic gestures mentioned, but also with Crumb, Feldman and others. This is not to accuse Broening of derivative composition, but as a point of orientation when trying to describe this music’s effect. The quieter moments of Makrokosmos or the Catalogue d'oiseaux have some of this nocturnal feel, and if you fancy a bit of that extended to a hour’s worth with some gently nuanced electronics thrown in for good measure, then this is the disc for you.
If you have a chance to sample some of this music, try the centrally placed Nocturne Doubles first. This was written earliest, and is “the spring from which the entire collection flowed.” Subtle electronics take the piano into different realms, and the harmonies and intervallic relationships establish something of a marker from which the rest of the pieces can be better appreciated.
There is an interesting alteration of musical perspective in the pieces where the piano is played four-hands rather than solo, the effect being of the single pianist expanding to one with very long and dextrous arms which can cover the entire range of the piano simultaneously. The music is arguably at its most effective where the material is pared down to a minimum. The Nocturne Fragments: Tenderly (i) on track 10 for instance, create maximum effect with very few notes indeed; proving that less can be, and often is more. The sequence from this to the piano with electronics Third Nocturne is truly magical, and this piece in particular generates the kind of significant atmosphere which spreads out towards the rest of the music on the CD. The final track, Night Falls (Nocturne Loops) is another very successful distillation of a small element of the musical material, to create an almost but never-quite resolving cadence.
This is a very fine recording, beautifully played and engineered, and in my view worth every penny of its asking price. You may perhaps prefer your piano music to have a less abstract - even distracted feel or a more tightly argued message, but this kind of music needs ‘duration’ to create its full effect. You have to give it its time, and in doing so you will reap its rewards, as this music certainly resonates on in the mind long after the last notes have faded away. As the online blurb states, “First Chopin, then Bartok and Carter, now Broening; your night-time soundtrack may never be the same again.”
Very fine indeed.