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Samuel ANDREYEV (b. 1981)
Music With No Edges
Vérifications, for six instruments (2012) [10:47]
Stopping, for two vibraphones (2006) [8:30]
5 Pièces, for flute and percussion (2010) [13:30]
Passages, for solo clarinet (2010) [6:45]
Music with no Edges (2004) [12:55]
Strasbourg Quartet (2014/15) [25:11]
rec 2016/18, Downtown Studio & Théâtre de Hautepierre, Strasbourg, France.
KAIROS KAI0015025 [77:47]

I have to confess that while I’d heard of Samuel Andreyev before requesting this disc to review, specifically in terms of his pedagogic activity, to my shame I’d never actively investigated his music. My loss entirely. For the record he is Canadian, in his late thirties, and studied composition and oboe at the Paris Conservatoire. He is an established poet and a much sought-after composition teacher. This is unsurprising, given that he has established a remarkable Youtube channel which contains a number of accessibly delivered and helpful analyses of contemporary compositions and trends. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Andreyev is a born communicator.

What of his music? The first thing that strikes one on exposure to the opening bars of the first Vérification is the extreme ‘otherness’ of the sound combination – a dry-sounding assemblage of tin cans, a descending motif on A-flat piccolo clarinet, the weird presence of an oboe-like instrument (in fact it’s a musette), a scratchy cello, some indiscernible keyboard tinkling; these elements merge into a miniaturised futuristic toy soldier tattoo, before being absorbed into the low drones of a Casio SK-1, which in turn is mirrored by a wealth of instrumental micro-activity. The strange-yet-oh-so-familiar tremolo sounds that sporadically emerge from the Casio create a nostalgia trip for those of us who acquired this cheap keyboard in the 1980s. For music that is so minutely and carefully through-composed, and thus very tightly controlled (by both composer and performers) it is a paradox that some of these sounds recall Cornelius Cardew’s 1960s free improvisation group the Scratch Orchestra. It’s extraordinary then, how surgical precision and anarchic freedom can sound so similar! The second piece in this sequence seems, superficially at least, to comprise a slowly unfolding reverie of overlapping sustained notes in the three wind instruments; but listen again and you perceive the breathing sounds amid a barely audible percussion foreground of manipulated rough surfaces. This is the kind of curiosity Andreyev is trying to instil in his audience – he wants one to listen again, to pay more attention, to notice the small stuff that our antennae filter out 99.9% of the time. His music is an encouragement of intense concentration, and that can be no bad thing. The third number is less subtle, an in-your-face sequence of assertive gestures from solo and combined instruments, though sounds concealed in the ‘undergrowth’ re-appear as it proceeds – the Casio doing its best cheap piano imitation. In the finale, a gently ticking background beats alongside astringent and lyrical content by turn, there is even the fragment of a tune.

Stopping, an eight and a half minute work-out for two vibraphones (placed at the extreme right and left of the sound picture) is effectively about the unique sonic possibilities of this particular instrument. But there’s nothing beyond the sound of the vibraphone itself that will evoke, for example, Gary Burton. Andreyev plays with the timbral potential of the vibraphones in a dynamic work that unfolds slowly, but in due course tellingly exploits the stereophonic potential of two such instruments. As Stopping moves towards its denouement, one becomes aware of the different motor speeds adopted by each vibraphone, a device which again serves up a series of odd sonic ambiguities for the brain to unravel.

At the start of the following work, cymbals and gongs create an echoey, rapid pulse over which a flute interrupts, with strident, spat out, isolated tones, heavily breathed percussive sounds, and lyrical, legato sequences of exotic near-melody. There is energy, flow and beauty in this first of Andreyev’s 5 Pièces for flute and percussion. But by the next movement this flow has dissipated into something more elusive – woodblocks and what sounds like an antique cymbal provide a diffuse percussion backdrop. After a brittle, agitated central panel, the intriguing fourth Pièce is slow and strange, relying on the resonance of the gongs to provide a pit of deep droning over which a stuttering flute projects a hidden message, which concludes in a breathy, repeated three note motif. Yet the final movement is even weirder – what at first listen appear to be two flutes projecting long, sustained, microtonally separated lines miraculously proves to be a cosmic duet between flute and tuned glasses. And perhaps this is Andreyev’s point – you may, at first not like this music, but it intrigues one sufficiently to demand a second hearing, for clarification, to pick up the small stuff, and when the mist rises, it miraculously becomes more accessible and attractive.

The clarinet solo Passages is less a catalogue of extended technique than it is a primer of microtonal writing for the instrument. The static collides with the mobile in a seven minute statement which is attractive in its way, but compared with the other works on this portrait disc somewhat generic. After all, listeners will be in no doubt they are hearing a clarinet in Passages. Hats off to the gymnastic and hyper-sensitive soloist, Thomas Monod, though.

And so to the piece which gives the album its title. Music with no Edges is scored for clarinet, percussion, viola, cello and double-bass, and comprises three brief movements before a six- minute finale. The title alludes to the abstract paintings of the American artist Philip Guston. In some of his works (such as Painting No 9 or Zone) there appears to be a kind of gravitational pull toward the centre of the canvas and away from the edges and corners. Each of the four movements of Andreyev’s piece, although demonstrably conveying different characters or moods seems to project what I would describe as neo-Webernian concentration, whereby the most important musical material is condensed within particularly active phases inside each panel and thus contrasts with the punctuating silences. The first piece is characterised by fragile, spare gestures, the second, though still mainly soft in impact juxtaposes high and low sounds. Perhaps the third piece is closest in spirit to Guston, as the sparse activity with which it starts builds towards an ever more agitated tutti which is gradually absorbed by the fragmented silence with which the piece began. The framing silent ‘interludes’ of the first three movements are joined in the finale by brief drum solos; these contrasting entr’actes surround music which is by turn restless and still. Music with no Edges contains some compelling gestures, but structurally I found it somewhat less convincing than the other ensemble works on the disc.

It concludes with Andreyev’s recent Strasbourg Quartet. Scored for flute, clarinet, percussion and cello the work comprises two longish outer movements which envelop two briefer inner ones. In the composer’s note he argues that the quartet “…requires a special sort of listening. It does away with dramaturgy, narrativity, linearity; instead, there is a network of heterogenous musical materials, each of which potentially (and fleetingly) occupies the centre of the discourse”. As it is, I would argue that the first two clauses here could actually be applied to all of the multi-movement pieces on this disc, but it also has to be said that the Strasbourg Quartet’s actual ‘sound’ does seem different. Firstly there is a clear sense of pulse throughout the music, while repeated shards, gestures and sequences of notes give the listener a set of clearly defined landmarks which help in locating one’s bearings. Each of the four movements convey a classical elegance, while at no stage does the piece ‘sound’ like a quartet, mostly due to the varied percussion. While I certainly derived a good deal of listening pleasure from the other pieces on this album, this Strasbourg Quartet seems to represent a paradigm shift which offers considerable potential for Andreyev’s future experiments.

Music with no Edges is a most absorbing release. It is generously filled, while the performances of the oddly-named Strasbourg-based ensemble HANATSUmiroir are caught with unerring precision by the Kairos engineers. The mildly dry recording suits these sounds to perfection and actually amplifies the detail hidden underneath much of this music. I have really enjoyed getting to know these pieces by Samuel Andreyev and I’m sure many readers will feel the same. I feel almost embarrassed that I hadn’t discovered his unusual music until now. His unique Youtube channel is most certainly worth your time as well – his analyses of a wide range of contemporary classics are communicative, entertaining and most importantly, useful. I especially recommend his fascinating analysis of Hindemith’s funky 1928 trio for heckelphone, viola and piano.

Richard Hanlon



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