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Miguel KERTSMAN (b. 1965)
Concerto Brasileiro for Flute, Strings and Percussion (2005) [15:55]
Concerto for Violin, Horn, Shofar and Orchestra (2013) [16:41]
Journey for Bassoon and Orchestra (2012) [21:40]
Chamber Symphony No. 2, New York of 50 Doors (1989) [11:12]
Marina Piccinini (flute)
Orsolya Korcsolßn (violin)
Gergely Sugar (horn and shofar)
Martin Kuuskmann (bassoon)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Dennis Russell Davies
rec. 2017, Henry Wood Hall, London
NAXOS 8.573987 [65:28]

Chamber Symphony No. 1, for Dark Orchestra, Soprano, Contralto and Percussion Acorda! (1995-6) [11:28]
Sinfonia Conertante - Brasileira for Flute and Orchestra (1989-99) [32:00]
Amazonia (1978) [16:36]
Wolfgang Schulz (flute)
Katazyna Dondalska (soprano)
Christa Ratzenb÷ck (contralto)
Bruckner Orchestra Linz/Dennis Russell Davis
rec. Brucknerhaus, Linz, no dates given.
GRAMOLA 98959 [60:05]

Brazilian-American composer, Miguel Kertsman, born in Recife, writes in numerous genres, embracing classical, jazz, progressive rock, electronica and film. He bridges these diverse elements to craft a unique sound-world. A graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, he studied conducting at Boston Conservatory and composition with Stanley Wolfe at the Juilliard.

His overture-length Chamber Symphony No. 1 Acorda! ("Wake-Up" in Portuguese) is in a single track on Gramola. It is laid out in four sections: Awakening: The Journey; Sun and Ocean; Meditation, Ascension. The instrumental specification has a 'dark orchestra', soprano and alto and a percussion ensemble. What is a "dark orchestra"? It is one that has been purged of violins or higher range wind instruments. In fact, the highest survivor in the winds is the oboe. It's a work dating from the composer's thirties. Its sounds and episodes are diverse: from South-American motor rhythms and percussion exotica recalling Milhaud and Villa-Lobos, dignified Bachian cantilena, voices calling out, female solo vocalises seeming to step out of a Bachianas that Villa-Lobos forgot to write, to the sounds of sand moving in the surf. The effect is dreamlike and kaleidoscopic - a welling up and reflective Andante. It ends with interweaving sounds: woodwind cantilena, the shout of "acorda!" from the orchestra members and a Shostakovich 15-like 'tick-tocking'.

The Sinfonia Concertante - Brasileira is in three movements for flute - here sensitively played by Wolfgang Schwarz - and orchestra. It was written in New York. The first of three movements, played without pause, is the longest and starts with an extended solo. This is a diverse amalgam of sounds and moods with a solo line that moves between the meditative, chirpy birdsong and opulent Respighian magniloquence. The central Largo - written in a single evening - again taps into Kertsman's predilection/gift for pensive Bachian cantilena. The work's finale is a Rondo subtitled The Dumb Donkey Called Jackass. It's a jerky, kinetic street-dance, rife with the clatter of Latino percussion and wild, roiled and anarchic woodwind, metropolitan jazz and shouts. The flute takes the backseat most of the time but asserts itself modestly at the close in emulation of the first section of the first movement. The drastic changes make for quite a jolt. Rather like Acorda! this music is best experienced as a sort of surreal, fast-paced pilgrimage of the senses. Its progression is instinctive, so brace yourself. The music is not hard to come to terms with moment by moment - it is usually very approachable.

The last work on the Gramola disc, Amazonia, is a symphonic poem - a very unfashionable form for new music in 1987, let alone 2018. This one, which runs a minute or so over a quarter hour, was inspired by a flight taken by the 21-year-old composer over the Amazonian rainforest. Part pensive landscape picture and part ecological warning, it has the most epic spirit among Gramola's three works. The music is rounded and is less of a picture of the jungle (although there are some such moments, as at 6:12). It is more a reflection on its wonders, its fragility and its Gaia significance. It could easily serve as a movement from a large symphony. The least episodic of the works here, it has an arch of sustained feeling written in a broadly undulating and long-lined Sibelius-into-Berg style. This occasionally, but briefly, had me thinking of John Barry's tone poem The Beyondness of Things. An orchestral piano cuts through what comes across as an evocative wilderness communion and the tolling of requiem bells. The score ends in a bold, brass-bedecked peroration.

Gramola's sleeve-note by Adrienne Lentz takes us firmly by the hand, in German and English, and guides us through the background to Kertsman and his music. The sound is good without being spectacular and the playing appears eager, professional and engaged in music that must have been unfamiliar.

The much more recent Naxos disc is only five minutes longer in playing time but features four works of which all but one are either concertos by name or concertante pieces.

The Concerto Brasileiro was written in New York in 2005 at the commission of the Austrian Flute Society for the soloist here: Marina Piccinini. It is to be distinguished from the Sinfonia Concertante on the Gramola disc despite the similarity of title. The Concerto opens with a gale-blown first movement: Bagunša. This functions as a Southern tropic echo of the benevolent storm that blows through the Nielsen concerto. The second movement seems to cradle repose in sorrow. It's all rather 1970s, soft-focus and sentimental. The clapping in the finale carries a joyful impudence. Its progress, though satisfying, is not quite as headlong as the first movement. The Concerto for Violin, Horn, Shofar and Orchestra is thoughtful rather than being a showboat spectacular. The combination of instruments is refreshingly eccentric but provocative with the shofar (adopted by Elgar for a brief appearance in The Apostles) originally having been made from a ram’s horn. It is thoughtful and very distant from the razamatazz and street carnival of the Concerto Brasileiro.

The Bassoon and Orchestra piece is the longest work here and unusually is deployed across five movements; then again it is not called a 'concerto'; rather a Journey. Perhaps one of these days it will share disc space with the identically scored Ruth Gipps' Leviathan. Kertsman paints the solo instrument's role in plaintive tones. The second movement is more experimental and never gets out of touch with tonal conventions and familiar ear-scapes. There's a cool piano-and-"bull fiddle" jazziness about the third movement. The solo instrument here is made to occupy the same sound-territory as the didjeridu much patronised by Australian composers Sean O'Boyle (review) and Peter Sculthorpe (review review). The feral and unkempt Chamber Symphony No. 2, New York of 50 Doors is about concert-overture length. It feels more hauntingly morose and experimental than Chamber Symphony No. 1 which bears a later date. Its frequently louche and jazzy loneliness might almost be the soundtrack to Edward Hopper's painting Nighthawks. New York of 50 Doors has been described as a "a vivid and colourful portrait of the city that never sleeps."

The useful place-finding notes are by Frank K DeWald and they work well to help orientate your ears and appreciate what is a good recording.

Kertsman combines and draws on a miscellany of styles. Only time will tell if the synthesis is totally resolved. Meantime, those who can embrace his gear-changes should savour this exploration moment by moment.

Rob Barnett



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