Classical CD Reviews

New classical music releases reviewed in detail by Gavin Dixon

Sunday, 23 May 2010

A Place Between

John TAVENER (b. 1944): Ikon of Joy and Sorrow (premiere recording) [2:54]
Arvo PÄRT (b. 1935): Hymn to a Great City, for two pianos [3:12]
Alexander KNAIFEL (b. 1943): O Heavenly King (premiere recording) [5:19]
Valentin SILVESTROV (b. 1937): Ikon (premiere recording) [4:23]
Valentin SILVESTROV (b. 1937): 25.X.1893. P. I. Tchaikovsky No. 2 – “Lullaby” [6:05]
Arvo PÄRT (b. 1935): Da Pacem Domine (premiere recording of string quartet version) [4:20]
Henryk GÓRECKI (b. 1933): Good Night, Op. 63 [27:50]
John CAGE (1912-92): In a Landscape [10:18]
Total time: [64.36]
Recorded at St. Peters Church of Ireland, Drogheda 28th Febuary-2nd March 2009
Louth Contemporary Music LCMS901

Patricia Rozario - soprano
Michael McHale – piano and celesta
Ioana Petcu-Colan – violin
Voureen Ryan – flute
Stephen Kelly - percussion
Callino Quartet
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The inaugural recording by the Louth Contemporary Music Society offers religious minimalism in a range of flavours. It’s essentially an ambient album, subdued chamber music recorded in the warm acoustic of a large church, but the choice of works and composers makes for a varied programme.

Alexander Knaifel and Valentin Silvestrov make the most interesting contributions. Both composers include a point of aural focus in each of their musical textures, creating a sense of inner purpose and balancing the prevailing sense of ambience. Knaifel’s O Heavenly King is scored for soprano and string quartet, but with an intermittent obliggato shared between piano and celesta giving a percussive foil to the otherwise sustained textures. Silvestrov creates a similar sense of inner contrast in his textures through the clear profile of his melodies, standing apart and leading the ear. In Ikon the melody derives (or so it seems) from Orthodox chant, and in 25.X.1893. P. I. Tchaikovsky No. 2 – Lullaby the melody is borrowed from Tchaikovsky.

John Tavener and Arvo Pärt are presented in a more strictly ambient mode. Tavener’s Ikon of Joy and Sorrow and Pärt’s Da Pacem Domine are both slow, quiet works for string quartet with homogenous religioso textures throughout. Hymn to a Great City is Arvo Pärt’s homage to New York. It is a piano duet work with a simple chordal theme underpinned by repeated A flats and decorated by the occasional arpeggio flourish at the top of the keyboard. Frustratingly monotonous but mercifully short.

Henryk Górecki could be considered a minimalist, even a religious minimalist, but not in the sense that unites Tavener, Pärt, Silvestrov and Knaifel. His Third Symphony has associated his name with the religious and ambient tendencies in Eastern European music, but the work presented here, Good Night, is in a more uncompromising vain. There are echoes of the Third Symphony, especially from the soprano in the third movement, but in general this is music based on a sterner aesthetic philosophy. It is a long work (around half an hour) and is based on rigorous principles of thematic and textural development, or at least metamorphosis. The textures remain subdued throughout, yet it is an intense listening experience, and the preceding works seem somewhat trivial by comparison.

The disc concludes with In a Landscape, a solo piano work written by John Cage in 1948. Music from a different time, then, and from a different continent. Nevertheless, it fits comfortably into this programme, and serves to demonstrate the immense significance John Cage and his music had on European music in the second half of the 20th century.

The performances are of a consistently high standard, and a special mention should be given to the ensemble’s guest star, the soprano Patricia Rozario, although her two short appearances are all too brief. Good recorded sound too, although the church acoustic is perhaps a little overly resonant, even for that ‘ambient’ sound. The halo around the solo piano in this environment is strikingly similar to that of many of the ECM recordings of works by some of these composers. The economic success and iconic status of those recordings would be a laudable goal for this and future recording projects from the contemporary music enthusiasts of Louth.

Gavin Dixon 2010

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