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David KECHLEY (b.1947)
Karasuma: A Fast Funk for Orchestra (1991-93) [8:10]
Wakeful Visions/Moonless Dreams [35:18]
Philharmonia Sudeka/Jerzey Kosek
rec. Walbrzych, Poland. Dates not given.
INNOVA 932 [8:10 + 35:18]

David Kechley has appeared on these pages before, with his Colliding Objects CD, also from Innova (review). This unusually presented pair of works is his fifth production of this kind; a project that has taken many years to complete, in part due to the composer’s recent ill health, but also due to the organisational difficulties of gathering and rehearsing the numerous musicians involved. The title, ‘The Walbrzych Project’ refers to the ultimate location for this recording, a small city in southern Poland.

Extravagantly but not unattractively presented on two CDs, the first disc has Karasuma, a work that started its life entitled ‘Blackbird’, but renamed as more suited to a visit to Japan in 1991 in which Kechley worked with students at the Doshisha Women’s College in Kyoto. The subtitle ‘Fast Funk’ goes a long way towards describing the character of this energetic piece, created “to be entertaining, fun to play, American in character and immediate in effect.” Plenty of groovy percussion and punchy playing from each orchestral section delivers this very well indeed, but there is also a reflective touch to a section that commences about halfway through the work, building into a richly expressive chorale-like moment before a jazzy and spectacular and brashly orchestrated finale.

CD 2 has the symphony Wakeful Visions/Moonless Dreams, the four movements of which each have literary titles, respectively coming from the Old Testament, a haiku by Buson, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and Marcel Proust. Kechley plays with the real sensations that can occur during dreams, and the unreal nature of “visions experienced in the light of day.”

The first movement with its biblical reference has a “fast and furious” response to a famous quote from Hosea 8:7, “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind…” There is a hint of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in the fierce rhythms and pagan energy of this opening movement, and the contrast between this and the gentle rise and fall of seascape in the second movement could hardly be greater. The haiku from which the title for this movement comes refer to “the spring sea [that] undulates the whole long day.” There is always a hidden power in the sea that is never too far away in the darker colours of this movement, but a lighter pastoral mood is also projected by an extensive flute solo, ensemble work further along, and the calm conclusion that follows a hard-won climax three-quarters of the way through.

“Something wicked this way comes” is a famous line from the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the sinister implications of the title expressed in threateningly cinematic winds and percussion, from which “malevolence and occasional chaos” develops into a powerful scherzo. The fourth movement, Moments, “is, among other things, about looking back and wondering if what we remember really happened or if it may have been a dream.” Musical fragments from the previous three movements are invoked, sometimes in their original form, but more often transformed in some way as they begin to inhabit their new and altered context. The Proust quote suits this process very well indeed: “The moments of the past do not remain still; they retain in our memory the motion which drew them towards the future, towards a future which has itself become the past, and draw us along in their train.” The conclusion to the symphony in a sound softened by woody marimba sonorities is very beautiful indeed.

This is the kind of colourful and approachable orchestral music that I can see becoming taken up by other orchestras, and perhaps being given an even more spectacular recording. The Philharmonia Sudeka is very good, but I can imagine the rhythms of Karasuma being played with even tighter control and more of a sense of swing. The symphony has less of that kind of specifically rhythmic American idiom and arguably works a little better as a result, but this recording is richly entertaining and indeed through-provoking throughout.

Dominy Clements



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