GRAMOPHONE AWARDS SHORTLIST 2021
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Andriessen The Only One Nora Fischer sop Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra / Esa-Pekka Salonen Nonesuch M 7559 79173-3 (21’ • DDD • T) Recorded live at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, May 2-5, 2019
A powerful creative force around which so many younger composers gravitated,
his recognisable style admired for its ability to shape and twist time and space like no other, Louis Andriessen has decided to finally call time on an extraordinary artistic journey. The sad news was announced at the end of last year by Andriessen’s wife, violinist Monica Germino, that the composer is now living with dementia.
Somewhere along the line, time has become memory in Andriessen’s music. Autobiographical clues hid inside the musical narratives and subplots of later works such as Mysteriën (‘Mysteries’) and Theatre of the World. Now all the puzzle’s pieces have been laid out on the table for us all to see.
In the Introduction, no sooner have two sets of agitated oscillating patterns in piano, marimba and winds got going (in trademark Andriessen fashion) than competing high strings hover above, stating a Brahmsian lullaby-like melody. The music shudders to a halt after barely a minute and a half, confused, as if unsure where to go.
The mezzo-soprano’s lone first entry – performed with vivid characterisation here by Nora Fischer – restores temporary order but the text, replete with surreal, streamof-consciousness thoughts and impressions by Flemish poet Delphine Lecompte, also refuses to settle. Lost, the music either takes comfort in the ghosts of musical memories past (ranging from mariachi music and self-quotation to statements of the ‘Dies irae’) or gets trapped in obsessive two-chord grooves. As Timo Andres writes in his excellent booklet notes, this is Andriessen ‘stripped down to his essence, all the component parts of his language laid bare’. The song-cycle feels
‘jarringly personal, as though Andriessen is subjecting his music to Freudian analysis’.
Almost like life itself, it’s all over before you’ve had time to pause and reflect. Andriessen’s music has never been as ‘straight to the point’ as this. His appetite for architectonic, cathedral-like structures (De tijd, Hadewijch), has shrunk to husk-like proportions. Andriessen’s final work, May, premiered in December 2020 (and written in memory of Baroque conductor and recorder virtuoso Frans Brüggen), was a cathartic emptying-out of musical memories. The Only One seems overburdened by them. Complex yet direct, it nevertheless serves as a fitting, if sad, farewell to a composer equally deserving of that description. Pwyll ap Siôn (April 2021)
Finnissy Pious Anthems & Voluntaries The Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge / Andrew Nethsingha with Sarah O’Flynn fl Cecily Ward vn Glen Dempsey, James Anderson-Besant org Signum F (two discs for the price of one) SIGCD624 (84’ • DDD • T/t)
This project originates in a residency of several years the composer undertook at St John’s College, Cambridge. At its heart are four choral works that reimagine specific pieces in the college’s repertory, ranging from Taverner to Bach, each of which is twinned with an instrumental (usually organ) commentary. As a cycle it’s so admirably balanced that one can take the whole thing in at a sitting. The Bachian cantata at the centre (in which organ and choir join forces with a flute and violin) is flanked by the substantial a cappella anthems and their no less substantial organ ‘doubles’.
The relation to the source material, revisited with each piece, is fascinating in itself. The cantata sticks most closely to its model but the twists and turns of its local handling keep one guessing. In what feels like a deliberately provocative gesture, the beginning of the commentary preceding it (on Wie schön leuchtet die Morgenstern) flirts with naivety, which is playfully and subtly defused. Elsewhere, the range of stylistic references is vast, ranging from a kind of (happily) deconstructed Duruflé to Donatoni, via a ‘textural parody’ of Taverner’s Dum transisset at the very start. It means that while there’s ‘something for everyone’, there’s something likely to irritate everyone as well. I suspect that’s how Finnissy likes it.
It’s great, in the first place, for an institution of this type to have approached a composer whose demands were always likely to challenge it. The Choir of St John’s College rise to those challenges gamely, their advocacy naturally essential to the success of the project. And it is a success. The Taverner parody and its organ double seem to me especially fine, both as compositions and performances. The soloists in the Bach cantata acquit themselves admirably too, though the bass’s unwavering introduction of vibrato after each attack gets a touch distracting. The ending of the organ double on Plebs angelica – the cycle’s final gesture – consummate the chordal material that runs through everything that has preceded: a thrilling conclusion. Fabrice Fitch (September 2020)
Lim Extinction Events and Dawn Chorusa. Axis mundib. Songs Found in Dreamc a Sophie Schafleitner vn bLorelei Dowling bn ac Klangforum Wien / cStefan Asbury, a Peter Rundel Kairos F 0015020KAI (63’ • DDD)
Based at the University of Huddersfield, the Australian composer
Liza Lim is one of a growing number of contemporary composers who, like Jennifer Walshe and Chaya Czernowin, uses her music to address ecological issues and the Anthropocene. This portrait disc is a primer on Lim’s music.
At 40 minutes, Extinction Events and Dawn Chorus is the centrepiece. Lim draws connections between enormous gyres of plastic rubbish swirling in the ocean and the debris of history around us (as in the classical tradition, quoting gramophone.co.uk
GRAMOPHONE GRAMOPHONE SHORTLIST 2021 1919
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