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Simon CHRISTENSEN (b.1971)
MANIFEST – But There’s No Need To Shout [72:18]
Birgitte Bærentzen Pihl, Signe Madsen (violins), Mina Fred (viola), Sofia Olsson (cello)
rec. September 2014, Frederiksberg Castle, (Frederiksberg/Copenhagen), Denmark
DACAPO 8.226587 [72:18]

If you want your string quartets to sound like a perseverance-contest among aspiring bagpipe players, this is decidedly for you. Simon Christensen’s MANIFEST – But There’s No Need To Shout – Music for string quartet (one movement, 72 minutes long) “wants to avoid going up and down – wants to avoid going up and down, wants something different than the omnipresence of fast moving notes and all kinds of all kinds – wants something different than the omnipresence of fluctuating dynamics – ends as a MANIFESTation for chord progressions going up and down… – seeks a unique acoustic sound.”

I haven’t gone batty, in case you are wondering. I’m quoting the self-description — the manifest of MANIFEST — from the booklet. If you think you have an idea of the music already, I think you are probably right. Well, since I can muster no appreciation for this music at all, other than the subconsciously smug intellectual gratification of having listened to it, I will quote more from the artsy, impractical liner notes; just about the first time I don’t adore a cover/notes that Denise Burt designed for Dacapo. In the re-printed appreciation the composer Jexper Holmen wrote – presumably either to the venue or composer or performers or perhaps as a letter to the editor to a newspaper. In any case he writes:

“[I] … would just like to say that Simon Christensen’s string quartet MANIFEST – But There’s No Need To Shout, which I heard this afternoon at Frederiksberg Palace Chapel, was a revelation. A work that played for more than an hour without dramatic progression and without ascending and descending motions. [Ed.: Sounds like reading a novel by Adalbert Stifter! Except I find Stifter oddly enjoyable.] A work that exclusively used the open strings of the instruments, retuned to micro-intervals. In addition each string had a fixed rhythmic figure that reappeared each time the string was used. The combination of the rich world of harmonics in the open strings and the harshly and richly dissonant chords that constituted the work resulted in a unique, dark, lustrous sound. The fixed rhythms gave each chord a pulsating inner life. The absence of melody and dramatic effect provided rich scope for absorption in this original universe. MANIFEST is beautiful in a way music has never been beautiful before.”

Incidentally, I can totally get on board with this: The description is spot-on and better than what I could have given. If this is beautiful, it is most certainly a different beautiful than any other ‘beautiful’ before. Reading this statement, I went simultaneously “Oy Veh!” and “Neat-O!”. In the hearing, I fell down heavily on the side of “Oy Veh!”, granted … perhaps for lack of patience, perhaps for not listening intensely, intently enough. Alas, to me it sounds like aforementioned bagpipe-contest. I’m not sure it’s quite as unique as made out to be, either, but for lack of a good comparison off the top of my ears I won’t make that claim too loudly. It would be the height of pretentiousness to say something about the musician’s performance. Maybe only the composer knows how superb (or not) it was. Braver souls than I shall venture forth and find enjoyment, which is surely to be had, in some way, from Simon Christensen’s MANIFEST – But There’s No Need To Shout.

Jens F. Laurson



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