Magazine article Gramophone

New Music, Old Forms: Richard Whitehouse Listens to a Selection of Discs Featuring Composers Employing Traditional Forms in Exciting New Ways

Magazine article Gramophone

New Music, Old Forms: Richard Whitehouse Listens to a Selection of Discs Featuring Composers Employing Traditional Forms in Exciting New Ways

Article excerpt

We can still use old forms to make new music.' Four decades after Penderecki issued this provocation to the European avant-garde, the notion of embodying the past within the context of the present has become a commonplace in Western music such that none of the composers featured here is notable for 'what' it is they do so much as for 'how' they go about doing it.

Chances are readers will have encountered the music of Karol Beffa (M973) through his numerous film scores rather than his concert output, yet this latter is substantial and, while not notably individual, consistent in its austere harmonies and lambent string textures. That much is evident from the works here (written between 1999 and 2013)--taking in the sombre Romanticism of the Viola Concerto and the wistful pastorale of the Harp Concerto, which latter instrument informs the intensifying then subsiding motion of Dedale. Most telling is the hypnotic poise in four settings of St John on the Cross in the song-cycle Nuit obscure-, while two pieces with piano, the Schnittkelike stylistic play of Dark and Silvestrov-like transcendence of Rainbow, frame a disc on which Johan Farjot draws some exquisite playing from Ensemble Contraste.

Whereas Beffa deploys Baroque stylisms as one aspect of his compositional armoury, Sebastian Krajewski (H 975) absorbs it whole in his two Concern grossi (2000 and 2006) --the relatively gende deviations of the former becoming audibly more disruptive in the latter. Finer, though, is the Oboe Concerto (2005), its three movements paying tribute to Vaughan Williams via a lucid and resourceful overhaul of the Classical trajectory to which Marek Roszkowski does full justice, while Seven Fragments after Michael Ende (2004) rounds off the selection in a mood of elusive understatement. The various Polish forces play with spirit and refinement, and this disc is further enhanced by Jacek Dehnel's essay The Dubrovnik Experiment, included here as an unexpected while thought provoking 'literary supplement'.

The oboe as a conveyer of stylistic versatility is confirmed by the four pieces on the anthology Meditation.

Henri Sauguet's Garden Concerto (1970) might almost be thought a precursor to that by Krajewski in its whimsical yet never wantonly escapist neo-classicism, enhanced by the deftest use of percussion, behind which can be sensed an unease the more troubling for its intangibility. The Nottumo (2001) by Nicolas Bacri typifies this composer's continuation of a Honegger lineage in French music, whereas Keith Jarrett's Adagio (1994) similarly pays homage to the American tradition exemplified by Barber. …

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