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Wim HENDERICKX (b. 1962)
Symphony No. 1 At the Edge of the World (2011) [30:15]
Oboe Concerto Empty Mind I (2014) [33:24]
Groove! for percussion and orchestra (2012) [29:24 ]
Empty Mind I for oboe and electronics [24:19]
Royal Flemish Philharmonic/Edo de Waart (sym); Martyn Brabbins
Piet van Bockstal (oboe); Pieterjan Vranckx (percussion); Jorrit Tamminga (electronics)
rec. 9-12 June 2015, Concertgebouw, Bruges and 21 March 2014, ChampdAction/Studio, Antwerp (Empty Mind I).

Wim Henderickx is Artist in Residence for the Royal Flemish Philharmonic. This double-CD can be added to a growing collection of releases of his music, including orchestral works such as the large-scale Tejas, also from the RFP (review).

Henderickx’s Symphony No. 1, subtitled At the Edge of the World was inspired by the sculptures of Anish Kapoor, and is occupied with grand forms and spaces. “Writing a symphony isn’t like putting up a garden shed: it’s a grand edifice … we need to start building cathedrals again.” Henderickx explores contrasts of sound and sonority, opening impressively with Marsyas, named after that huge red shape made by Kapoor to fill the Tate Modern’s turbine room. His interest in exotic cultures can also be heard in the expressively melodic second movement, Melancholia. The quiet textures of this movement are further framed with the restless energy of Svayambh, Kapoor’s big block of wax for the Royal Academy of Arts, in which echoes of Messiaen’s Turangalīla Symphony can be heard. At the Edge of the World, as the fourth and longest movement, is the space in which we sink deepest into a realm of introspection and, with its “timeless quality”, that “building the audience has to explore for itself.” Atmosphere is created with long notes and close intervals, with the flight of micro-solos casting flashes of action and reaction through the air. The final movement, Leviathan, is as you might expect a much weightier affair, “a multi-faceted structure … [shifting] from harsh, loud passages to soft, quiet ones. The feeling of being inside the belly of the beast inevitably helped influence the ending, a wild climax with three timpanists.”

The visual arts also inform the two versions of Empty Mind I, in this case the abstract and minimalist work of Agnes Martin. The orchestral sounds of the Oboe Concerto are enhanced by a sparkling added layer of depth through the electronics in the first movement, Awakening. There the oboe can be heard as a soulful voice whose microtonal phrasing and melodic shapes once again recollect some non-Western tonalities. The five movements of this work “can be taken as reflections on what it means to truly empty your soul”. The generally ‘slow and elegiac’ nature of the music sails close to dreamy contemplation at times, although with Henderickx there is always something ‘going on’ to guide your ears and keep your attention wide awake. Time is additionally shaped in the orchestral version through moments of freedom and quasi-improvisation. At the end of each movement, there's “a drawn-out sound or freeze” in which the players can stretch their notes into a kind of infinity: “the melding of time and space is definitely at the heart of this piece.”

There is something plaintive and ancient about the oboe which suits this music perfectly – its wails answered with primordial angst by the orchestra or its chatter reflected as on moonlit water. The orchestral concerto came after the original Empty Mind I for oboe and electronics. It is fascinating to compare and contrast the two versions. The surreal soundscape through which the oboe moves in the original version is perhaps more troubling – the semantic associations of orchestral instruments softening the loneliness of the original with the warm security-blanket of the concert hall. There is often an angularity between a live instrument and backing electronics, but the collaboration between Henderickx and Jorrit Tamminga results in something that has an organic feel, using the illusion of call and response between instrument and speakers to enhance and expand the world of the soloist. Harmony and a sense of cadence are also thrown into the mix, sometimes with an almost cheesy directness such as the fanfare-like moments in the fourth movement, Contemplation.

You wouldn’t expect a conventional percussion concerto from Wim Henderickx, and Groove! launches us straightaway into worlds of the exotic East in a movement called 1001 Nights. Rhythmic impetus and the atmosphere of darkly chaotic gatherings create a heady mix that has little to do with abstract modernism while still managing to sound intensely contemporary. Throughout the piece, percussion player Pieterjan Vranckx expertly performs on a variety of instruments, including an African caxixi and a kalimba (thumb piano), Arab instruments such as derbuka drums and riqs and instruments from Asia like tablas and Tibetan bowls. The colours of the symphony orchestra are also expanded with bass guitar, synthesizer and baritone saxophone. Into a Mystical World is the title of the atmospheric heart of the work, a centre that delivers maximum contrast to the tremendous energy of the outer movements but creating a nocturnal power of its own. The final movement is called Black Magic, which layers slower phrases and melodic material from the strings over the driving rhythms of drums and winds. With its cinematic conclusion this is certainly the most eclectic movement from this entire collection of works but is nonetheless exciting for all that.

The sound of Groove! is the kind of thing you want to have with you when auditioning new HiFi, and the recorded production quality of everything here is very high indeed. One-man music factory Wim Henderickx proves himself once again one of the most interesting creative voices in Belgium and indeed Europe. This release will inject plenty of contemporary music mojo into your collection.

Dominy Clements



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