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Ofer PELZ (b. 1978)
Backward Inductions (for augmented piano) (2014/2017) [7:56]
Amit Dolberg (piano)
rec 2019, studio of Buchmann-Mehta School of Music, Tel Aviv University
Chinese Whispers (for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, prepared piano and amplification) (2013) [10:59]
Meitar Ensemble/Guy Feder
rec December 2013, Ogen Studio, Kibbutz HaOgen
Convergence (for alto flute and electronics) (2011) [7:23]
Roy Amotz (flute)
rec June 2013, Music Faculty Studio, University of Montreal
Marchons, marchons (for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and prepared piano) (2016/2016) [12:05]
Meitar Ensemble/Pierre André Valade
rec live, 27 October 2017 Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Bourgie Hall
Blanc sur blanc (for flute, clarinet, prepared piano and amplified string quartet) (2011) [13:38]
Meitar Ensemble and Quatuor Ardeo/Renaud Déjardin
rec. live, 26 November 2011 at Art en Résonance Festival, Paris

I first came across the work of the Montreal based Israeli composer Ofer Pelz through David Greilsammer’s wonderful recital disc Labyrinth (2020, Naďve V7084). The two pieces included there give a good indication of his style but not the scope of his output. This new recording gave me the opportunity to get to know his work a lot better. If I were forced to apply a label to his music I would probably call it “modernist minimalism” though I suspect that label must already be taken. What I mean by it is that the types of sounds, melodies and harmonies he uses are fairly modernist whereas his approach to developing his material has similarities to the minimalism of Reich and Glass. The composer, himself, describes this aspect of his music as ‘unstable repetition’.

The second track on this CD, Chinese Whispers, exemplifies this style. Material is repeated but, like Chinese Whispers, it gets altered with each repetition. The opening track, Backward Induction is meant to be this process in reverse though how the listener is meant to be able to distinguish the difference escapes me.

As a quite general gripe about a lot of recordings and programme notes on contemporary classical, too often these are written in such a way as to require fairly specific technical knowledge to be comprehensible. Perhaps it is the case that only the initiates listen to this music, but personally I find this a great pity. I have never understood why the Tate Modern is knee deep in people (even in Covid times!) and contemporary classical music is so ignored. This present disc seems to me to offer great rewards for the curious listener and, like a lot of modern music, is not as ferociously off-putting as it might seem.

Returning to Backward Induction, I would be very surprised if this presents any difficulties for anyone familiar with Bartók and Philip Glass. It is written for what is referred to as an augmented piano. What that means is that sensors placed inside the piano are used to trigger various percussion instruments as the piano keys are struck. In essence, a kind of deluxe prepared piano. As with any clever musical idea, it lives or dies depending on whether it works for the listener. I found it an amusing and surprisingly catchy effect as the ear seeks to anticipate the percussive contributions. Stylistically, I think anyone who enjoys the piano music of Messiaen will find a lot to their taste here. There is a sense of vibrant motion to Pelz’s music which I find very appealing.

Convergences is a tougher listen, though ultimately a rewarding one. If I understood the programme note correctly, it is concerned with the elements that combine to produce sound and with the way they are combined. As a listening experience, this means the music becomes gradually more complex from a rather fractured beginning. It is scored for flute and electronics. The latter allows the breaking down and recombining of the music in such a way that, as it progresses, it leads to the convergence on a single note that gives the work its title. In some ways this functions rather like the relationship between the tension of dissonance followed by its release in consonance in tonal music. Certainly this piece generates both great tension and, toward the end, a satisfying sense of release.

Marchons, marchons combines elements of all three of the preceding pieces. It begins with a lengthy exploration of different timbres and tonal qualities often at the edge of audibility. These elements slowly coalesce and gather momentum and structure until the second main section follows the “modernist minimalism” pattern of Backward Inductions and Chinese Whispers. Its theme is a rather gory passage in the Marseillaise about “letting impure blood soak our fields”. The connection with the music seems obscure to me and I found it easier to relate to the idea of nourishing the planet – the theme of the festival for which it was written. The first section seeming parched and the second more energetic and revived. The rhythm which the music develops becomes an organising factor in making sense of the disparate sounds of the opening. This is bracing music but its vitality means that it is hardly daunting. The sudden return of the opening music is highly dramatic and rather haunting in effect.

Blanc sur blanc, the final work, extends this approach in what seems a logical direction – towards mathematical logarithms as a means of extending patterns. The patterns are little musical phrases used in the manner of tape loops which are repeated and reorganised into ever bigger and more complex patterns. The manner of development is more organic than this suggests, and is rather closer to the construction of larger musical forms from motives found in the music of Brahms and Wagner than might be supposed at first listen. As with a lot of contemporary music at the moment, what constitutes a musical element here seems to extend to anything that makes a noise. As a result we get all manner of scrapes, scratches, breaths and taps as well as more conventional musical sounds caught up in the organising patterns. To my ears, this makes for a highly diverting and often surprising listen but one that never descends to the level of just making noise.

All that remains to be said is that the performances are totally committed and that the recording standards are extremely high.

This is a timely summary of the work of a distinctive and attractive voice on the contemporary scene and I very much look forward to seeing where he goes next – an opera perhaps?

David McDade

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