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Juan ALLENDE-BLIN (b. 1928)
Fragment nach Hölderlin (1984) [22:41]
Distances (1961) [12:54]
Quartett (2007) [13:12]
L’émigrant – Kantate nach einum Gedicht von Jules Supervielle (2010) [20:05]
Silvie Weiss (soprano)
rec. 2010, Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Köln
Mirjam Wiesemann in conversation with Juan Allende-Blin [82:21]
Matthias Geuting reads Über das Unsägliche in der Musik von Juan Allende-Blin by Gerd Zacher (2012) [31:52]
CYBELE RECORDS 3SACD KiG007 [3 discs: 183:04]

Cybele Records’ Artists in Conversation series brings us names both well-known and relatively obscure, and I for one had never heard of the Chilean-born Juan Allende-Blin before being sent this unusual recording. Allende-Blin’s first studies were with his uncle, Pedro Humberto Allende. Subsequent studies include time at the University of Santiago, and further with Olivier Messiaen at Darmstädt. After some years as professor of musical analysis at the University of Santiago he moved to Germany in 1957 where he has been based ever since. I’ve had this set lying around for several months, not being sure what to make of it after dipping in from time to time. This music, however, is not for ‘dipping in’. You have to give it it’s time to evolve and take hold, but once you’re engaged there much to discover.

Fragment nach Hölderlin for soprano, trumpet and euphonium takes its text and turns it into often entirely abstract sounds, using whistling, phonemes and single words to give the singer a part equal to the other musicians. The instrumentation seems odd but works surprisingly effectively. Each instrument is at times taken to extremes in terms of its range, but with multiphonic sounds and the upper harmonics of low pedal tones there is a rare richness to the sound that is both engaging and strangely mystical, especially with the slow pace, long notes and moments of silence that carry us through.

Distances for flute, harp, vibraphone and percussion takes us firmly back into mid-20th century avant-garde, with atonal serialism guiding the tones and melodic shapes, and quality and contrast of sound at least as important to the musical narrative as any other element. The composer’s associations for this work include dance, compositional techniques used by Messiaen, and innovations discussed with choreographer and dancer Kurt Jooss, “… a kind of poetics that – as with Paul Klee – blurs the boundaries between representation and abstraction.” There is certainly a poetic quality to the resonance and shape of this piece, with the mellifluous glow of the vibraphone and harp underpinning and tending to neutralise the occasional violence of the other percussion, and the flute moving amongst them like a human character, at times lost in strange atmospheres, and always a soft voice of reason that rises to every challenge.

Quartett for flute, clarinet, trombone and piano is Allende-Blin’s response to today’s noisy commercialism, the music “a simple invitation to perceive distinctive sounds which, like people, present with individual characteristics.” Slow in its forward progression, using silence and the development of timbres such as multiphonic chords from the wind instruments, this is a sound-world not without drama and a sense of threat. “Perhaps it is a fragile building that one should enter attentively and with curiosity, but also with caution.”

L’émigrant – Cantata after a poem by Jules Supervielle is scored for soprano, flute, clarinet, trombone, cello and piano. The poem, printed in its original French and translated into German and English in the booklet for this release, is both enigmatic and clear in its message: enigmatic in the layers of possible interpretation that can be placed on it, but also clear in its mood and emotional direction. Allende-Blin’s brief note for the piece declares that “the soprano line determines the character of the entire music. Just as the text reveals itself open to multiple associations, so its surrounding sound-world aspires to a state that is multi-layered and simultaneously frail.” This is more an emotional space than a work with a clear narrative curve, but its profound and slow-moving progress changes in colour in response to the text, adding weight to single words as well as lines from which the instruments take their cues.

The often glacial progress and extremes of exploration in terms of timbre in Juan Allende-Blin’s musical style will not be to everyone’s taste, but he has carved out a deeply personal and distinctive niche in an atonal idiom that is hard to craft these days without falling into some kind of caricature. As ever with these releases, the interview is a fascinating collection of insights and anecdotes into the composer’s work, as well as providing a unique way of finding out about his personality and character. With everything being in German this may have limited value to many, but as far as I know Cybele is the only label consistently creating and releasing this kind of material, and plaudits are therefore always in order. The set is rounded off with a reading in Matthias Geuting’s pleasantly rounded voice, of a text On the Unsayable in the Music of Juan Allende-Blin by Allende-Blin’s late friend and partner, the organist and composer Gerd Zacher.

Dominy Clements



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