After leaving a collection of several hundred CDs behind in my last intercontinental move, I’m little by little building a new one. Amongst recent additions, I’d like to highlight three 2017 releases from Germany, Australia and the UK that I’ve been fortunate to receive from friends, and which I cannot recommend highly enough to anyone with an appetite for new music:
1. Christian Pedro Vásquez Miranda / Johannes Haase: KA–5, El Colibrí (2017)
“In my music, in archaic sounds of strings resonate:
– moving clouds in the horizon
– sounds and lights of the highway at night
– the singing of birds
– ceremonies of the aborigines of Tierra del Fuego.” (Christian P. Vásquez M., my transl.)
Associations such as these may sound pretentious to anyone who’s not familiar with Vásquez’s music. Knowing him, and the extreme beauty, originality and refinement of his musical writing, I can only attest that it is that and much more. Vásquez –born in Chile and based in Germany– has so far maintained a low profile as a composer and accomplished flutist. The little information contained in this monographic release is indicative of his somehow elusive personality, and largely compensated by the very music within. Haase, both heading a string quartet in the first half, and solo for the remaining 21 minutes, presents a feast of kaleidoscopic sounds coming from his violin and his colleagues’ strings. The result is a vertiginous exploration of the widest dynamic ranges, in a music that is incredibly sensual, yet never capitulates to complacency.
2. Kupka’s Piano: Braneworlds (2017)
Just released last week in Brisbane, this CD is similarly packed with engaging music played vigorously by this young and essential ensemble from Queensland.
Legendary composer Chris Dench offers in ‘Flux’ a new score full of vital pulsation. There’s nothing obvious or gratuitous about this piece. Explosions of voluptuous polyphonic density disseminate into fragile and almost lyrical lines through different paths. The kind of intellectual incisiveness that you’d expect from Dench is in good shape, and in no way secludes a most rewarding listening experience.
Lawrence’s piece is the one in the whole album that I find personally most difficult to relate to in its directness. Bragg’s ‘The Sleep of Reason’ presents a kind of coloristic exploration of the ensemble, rich in tension between static pitch content and highly dynamic densities and shapes.
Reardon-Smith’s ‘Olive’ offers contrast to the rest of the album through its instrumentation (two flutes), and in the freshness of playful semi-improvised lines constantly converging in a sort of dislocated unison. Flenady’s piece, which gives title to this CD, offers an extreme polyphony of polyphonies, as though presenting contiguous windows into disparate landscapes, each of which is constantly changing. The music at times gets suspended in whirls of obsessiveness that remind of Beckettian situations.
3. Richard Craig: Vale (2017)
‘Vale’ presents works centred on the solo flute by Evan Johnson, Esaias Järnegard (with additional voice), Fabrice Fitch (with additional string trio), Richard Barrett, John Croft (with additional soprano), and Brice Pauset. At first listening, this repertoire –composed between 1998 and 2013– comes across as rather homogenous, not only in the composers’ demographics, but also in their highly refined, so-called ‘second modernity’ kind of instrumental writing. To varying degrees, each of the pieces rethinks the instrument in an aesthetics of well-crafted details and fragility of sound emission.
Barrett’s work offers –especially in its beginning– some vital airflow, well placed at the centre of the album. Although seemingly derived from different creative sources, at least at surface level the pieces by Fitch and Croft remind of Nono’s music from the 80’s; the former one ending with disconcerting bluntness, the latter filled with captivating lyricism.
A much appreciated feature are the score snippets in the booklet, which provide glimpses of the visual beauty that is integral to much of this repertoire (I’m thinking especially of Johnson’s). Richard Craig, and guest performers Cora Schmeiser and Distractfold Ensemble, plus the production team did an extraordinary job capturing and conveying the detailed nuances that this music is constructed with. Craig’s performance is nothing short of masterful. As a whole, the album is sober and delicate. In summary, a very worthwhile listening, which I’d personally recommend experiencing on a piece-by-piece basis, rather than continuously, to better appreciate their individual beauty.
© Pedro Alvarez, 2017