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Vanessa LANN (b. 1968)
Moonshadow Sunshadow
DD (Double D) (1996) [1:05]
Dancing to an Orange Drummer (1993) [5:36]
Inner Piece (1994) [7:47]
moonshadow sunshadow (2014) [9:35]
Recalling Chimes (1998) [10:22]
Resurrecting Persephone (1999) [24:21]
Is a Bell…a Bell? (2004) [4:51]
Guy Livingston (piano; DD): Ensemble Present/Jurjen Hempel (Dancing to an Orange Drummer): Tomoko Mukaiyama (piano: Inner Piece): Liza Ferschtman and Esther Hoppe (violins: moonshadow sunshadow): Ivo Janssen (piano: Recalling Chimes): Eleonore Pameijer (flute)/Radio Kamerorkest/Kenneth Montgomery (Resurrecting Persephone): Isabel Ettenauer (toy pianos: Is a Bell…a Bell?)
No recording details provided

The American-born but Dutch-resident Vanessa Lann has been a prominent composer and teacher for some years and this compilation of her works, sourced from several labels, hence the absence, one supposes, of recording locations and dates, offers a fine opportunity to explore her creativity and industry over the two decades between 1993 and 2014. All the works were written at the request of musical friends who perform them here. The source labels concerned include Wergo, NMClassics and Void Classics.

In fact, I’ve already reviewed one of the performances here, which makes it a good place to start, and that is Tomoko Mukaiyama’s reading of Inner Piece (review). I refreshed my memory of this solo piano work and, though it’s somewhat infra dig to quote oneself, I find I can’t improve on what I wrote back in 2006 when I described it as ‘a toccata, and it rolls into a boogie-woogie excitingly, treble flecking drama tinged with bop traces. Soon a pop tune evolves, drizzled with upper voiced delicacy – intricate and attractive.’ DD (Double D) was a commission from pianist Guy Livingston for a one-minute distillation of various composers’ styles. Lann responded with a play on the note D, and I’ll refrain from explaining the title’s double entendre – Thea Derks is less retiring in the entertaining booklet notes - which is relevant because of the physical contortions that Lann requires of the soloist.

One of the most impressive and compact of the works is Dancing to an Orange Drummer, which happens to be the earliest of the seven pieces in this selection. Solemn brass soon meets minimalist-like figures against which the brass reacts. These two elements reflect Lann’s own predicament as an expatriate American in a new homeland, the music coalescing finally, forming a cohesive union of what was previously contrasting material. It’s marvellously played by Ensemble Present under Jurjen Hempel and interestingly Lann later wrote a symphonic version for the Boston Pops to perform.

Lann certainly has an acute awareness of the visual nature of performance. Whilst DD (Double D) requires extreme contortions to play, adding to the humour of a one-minute precis of her art on solo piano, moonshadow sunshadow offers the spectacle of a two-violin team where one stands behind the other synchronizing movements to offer a kind of blended halo. If the players are stationed correctly the audience will see one performer but hear two sounds, before the two musicians reverse roles. This question of foregrounding and backgrounding is something that recurs in her music. It helps that she two such gifted players as Liza Ferschtman and Esther Hoppe to perform the piece which, divorced from any visual imagery, can work – or fail – aurally. I find its subtlety and deftness extremely addictive but would certainly want to see it explored on stage to enjoy the full effect of its mirroring and transformatory nature.

The tracery and increasing amplitude of Recalling Chimes, evocatively played by pianist Ivo Janssen, is intensified by the use of a mallet on the piano body and the performer’s humming. The work is, in effect, another toccata and a fine example of her use of colour and sound mass. The longest piece is Resurrecting Persephone crafted for flute and orchestra. Eleonore Pameijer enacts the titular role, her earlier statements being subdued as befits one who must remain in the Underworld. The orchestra explores much of the material before the flute takes on a more insistent role. The use of amplification and special effects widens the sonic possibilities of the music before the flute eventually emerges as a fully-fledged character, taking on a cadenza and then returning once more to a more static mysterious, near-inaudible state.

The final piece is the questioning Is a Bell…a Bell? which is both posed and then solved by pianist Isabel Ettenauer, whose first name is encoded in the title. This employs the use of a toy piano and the bell-like sonorities give it a study-like feel. The two toy pianos swap musical roles in a way that teases the listener with foregrounding effects, once again. Role reversals and foregrounding are essential elements of Lann’s musical imagination.

Outstanding performances and recordings buttress this communicative and clever compilation.

Jonathan Woolf

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