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Bernhard LANG (b. 1957)
Monadologie XVI “solfeggio” (2011) [5:22]
DW25 … more loops for U (2015) [12:47]
DW22 “Winterlicht” (2010) [27:01]
Manuel Zurria (flute and bass flute)
Daro Calderone (double bass)
rec. 4 November 2018 and 16 May 2020 (DW25), Studio Z, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
KAIROS 0015089KAI [45:26]

Austrian composer Bernhard Lang’s music is defined in Wikipedia as “modern contemporary music”, which can mean anything these days, further specified as having roots “in various genres such as 20th-century avant-garde, European classical music, jazz, free jazz, rock, punk, techno, EDM, electronica, electronic music and computer-generated music”, which can also mean anything. These days we can orientate ourselves with as many genres as we like, but in the end the bottom line has to be ‘is this any good?’ or ‘do I like this/does this interest me?’

My interest here is partly as a flute player who these days works mostly on an instrument with the same range as a double bass, but also always as a musician looking out for new combinations and sounds. This programme looks into the ideas of repetition that entered Lang’s work since reading Gilles Deleuze’s philosophical work Diférance et répetition from 1968. Langs music isn’t repetitive in the minimalist sense, but ideas circle and bounce off their own variations with verve and energy, involving the player in physically demanding action and reaction, with the bass player not only vocalising but also engaged in foot stamping during DW25 … more loops for U. ‘DW’ stands for Differenz/Wiederholung, which is the title for a long running series of pieces that examines and explores these ideas of repetition. Rhythm is a strong element in DW25, setting up a kind of ostinato over which the complexities of double stopping and harmonics deliver something that has both the spontaneous feel of an improvisation, while holding on to a strict discipline of structure and compositional focus. The rhythm is broken towards the end of the piece, entering a more ruminative space that ultimately gives way to a reference to the Lutheran hymn Es ist genug, another reflective layer that hints back at some of the wit and humour that flashes by earlier on in this piece.

DW22 “Winterlicht” brings double bass and bass flute together in a piece divided into three movements. There are atmospheres and timbres that refer to nocturnal cold throughout the work, though this is at its most extended in the second movement’s stillness and sustained sounds, the air sounds from the bass flute suggesting chill winds as a side-effect of this instrument’s natural sonics. These references give this piece narrative Winterreise associations, though this is not to say that all of the music is suggestive or even static. Lang’s signature rhythmic drive is present in the outer movements, with a folk-like or jazzy groove initiating the third part.

Ending with the start of this programme, Monadologie XVI “solfeggio” for flute introduces another series, the Monadologie which is another large scale collection of over forty compositions to date. These pieces are a purposeful recomposing of pre-existing musical material, in this case a flute study by Frederick the Great, a name that will be familiar to all flutists. The original is chopped up and extended with all kinds of modern flute techniques including tongue slaps, singing into the flute and overblowing, and the result is a rhythmically intense and manic etude that was sent back as ‘unplayable’ by the organisers of the flute competition for which it was originally written. Revised in consultation with Manuel Zurria and now dedicated to him, this remains a piece that will be beyond the range of all but the most dedicated of contemporary music players.

I’ve become decidedly picky about modern music these days but this is a programme of music that, for me, stimulates on a number of levels. Its avant-garde nature and challenges to the performers are in the service of strong musical ideas and, while serious in concept, this is music that doesn’t take its seriousness too seriously. By this I mean that Lang allows elements into his idiom that have direct connection with the listener, from enjoyable rhythmic pulse and engagement with musical memory to associations with and use of the human voice, while at the same time being uncompromising in terms of his own distinctive vernacular. The instruments are well recorded, though you can hear that Monadologie XVI took a few goes to perfect. Short playing time may be noted, though the experience is intense enough to make you feel ‘full’ by the end.

Dominy Clements

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