Mu­sic new and old: Santa Fe Cham­ber Mu­sic Fes­ti­val

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - James M. Keller

A cou­ple of re­cently com­posed pieces found their way to the mu­sic stands at Santa Fe Cham­ber Mu­sic Fes­ti­val dur­ing the past week. On July 30 and July 31 (I heard the lat­ter per­for­mance), vi­olist Brett Dean was as­sisted by pi­anist Juho Po­hjo­nen in Dean’s Rooms of Elsi­nore, per­formed at St. Fran­cis Au­di­to­rium. This is the fourth work of Dean’s that the fes­ti­val has hosted in the past few years. Among them was (in 2014) his String Quar­tet No. 2, which is a suite for so­prano and string quar­tet sub­ti­tled And

once I played Ophe­lia. The so­prano’s text was made up of words de­claimed by or di­rected to Ophe­lia in

Ham­let. The so­prano Tony Arnold, who per­formed it here, de­scribed it as a mon­odrama. Since then, Dean, an Aus­tralian com­poser born in 1961, has vented his fas­ci­na­tion with that play through his opera Ham­let, pre­miered this June at the Glyn­de­bourne Fes­ti­val; and he has brought up the rear with his 20-minute Rooms

of Elsi­nore, co-com­mis­sioned by Santa Fe Cham­ber Mu­sic Fes­ti­val and pre­miered this past April at the Li­brary of Congress. “Rooms of Elsi­nore,” he writes, “is the end point of an amaz­ing four-year jour­ney of dis­cov­ery and won­der through Shake­speare’s Ham­let. This new work for vi­ola and pi­ano rep­re­sents a sort of clos­ing of the book on this ven­ture.”

It was di­rectly in­spired by a visit to Elsi­nore Cas­tle in Den­mark, where Shake­speare sit­u­ated his play. The work’s seven move­ments (the first and sec­ond, and the sixth and sev­enth, are con­nected into dyads) are ba­si­cally a tour of the cas­tle, their mu­sic sug­gest­ing what might have gone on in the var­i­ous rooms. The com­poser says that it “has a sort of dra­maturgy of its own — an in­ner tra­jec­tory that re­flects the spa­ces where the ac­tion un­folds — yet with­out be­ing overtly pro­gram­matic.” I guess that means it is in­tended to con­vey moods rather than a spe­cific nar­ra­tive. That it does. The open­ing move­ment, “The Dark Gate,” has the vi­ola emit sus­tained creaks against os­ti­na­to­like fig­ures in the pi­ano; and this yields to a faster sec­tion (“The Four Gate Court­yard”) filled with vi­ola arpeg­gios. So it con­tin­ues through other lo­ca­tions, some­times with a haunt­ing vi­ola line against a quiv­er­ing key­board part (“The Plat­form”), some­times bound­ing about like a dis­so­nant Prokofie­vian toc­cata (“The King’s Cham­ber”), with moods al­ter­nat­ing through to the mourn­ful end. Dean, who played vi­ola in the Ber­lin Phil­har­monic for 15 years, knows how to draw all sorts of sounds out of his in­stru­ment, but he also has skill in turn­ing a sus­tained line, which adds much to the evoca­tive qual­ity of this work’s slower ex­panses.

More chal­leng­ing and less wel­com­ing was Ju­lian Anderson’s 20-minute Sen­sa­tion for solo pi­ano, per­formed by Stephen Gosling on Aug. 3. Again, this was a fes­ti­val co-com­mis­sion, and again the pre­miere had taken place else­where — in this case, at the 2016 Alde­burgh Fes­ti­val. Anderson, a Bri­tish com­poser, de­vel­oped early on un­der the in­flu­ence of the spec­tral­ists, who de­rived their com­po­si­tions by ap­ply­ing math­e­mat­i­cal com­pu­ta­tions and al­go­rithms to the phys­i­cal as­pects of sounds. I doubt that Sen­sa­tion was such a piece in any strict sense (al­though it would be hard to know, and a lis­tener needs not care), but Gosling’s per­for­mance was cal­i­brated to stress the phys­i­cal be­hav­ior of tones. This was par­tic­u­larly ef­fec­tive in the last of the work’s five move­ments (not count­ing a coda), “Alba” (“a cel­e­bra­tion of the sounds and sen­sa­tions of dawn and the re­turn of sun­light,” ac­cord­ing to the com­poser), voiced to high­light ringing har­mon­ics. The open­ing move­ment, “She Hears,” was an homage to Imo­gen Holst, daugh­ter of com­poser Gus­tav and a com­poser her­self. Anderson points out that it in­cludes al­lu­sions to two of the fa­ther’s com­po­si­tions, but on the whole its slow, dense chords re­minded me in­stead of the on­go­ing thanks mod­ern com­posers owe to De­bussy.

Fol­low­ing Anderson’s piece was the String Octet of Max Bruch (1838-1920), a com­poser known al­most ex­clu­sively for his G-mi­nor Vi­olin Con­certo and his Kol nidrei for cello and orches­tra. At no point in his long and wor­thy ca­reer did Bruch seem to be ahead of his time, al­though his fa­mous vi­olin con­certo, some­times viewed as a knock-off of Brahms’ anal­o­gous com­po­si­tion, was ac­tu­ally writ­ten ear­lier. Bruch had no il­lu­sions about how he com­pared to that tow­er­ing ge­nius, whom he counted as a friend. “Brahms was a far greater com­poser than I am for sev­eral rea­sons,” he told an in­ter­viewer. “First of all he was much more orig­i­nal. He al­ways went his own way. He cared not at all about the pub­lic re­ac­tion or what the crit­ics wrote . ... I had a wife and chil­dren to sup­port and ed­u­cate. I was com­pelled to earn money with my com­po­si­tions. There­fore I had to write works that were pleas­ing and eas­ily un­der­stood. I never wrote down to the pub­lic; my artis­tic con­science would never per­mit me to do that. I al­ways com­posed good mu­sic but it was mu­sic that sold read­ily. There was never any­thing to quar­rel about in my mu­sic as there was in that of Brahms.”

Rooms for Elsi­nore’s seven move­ments are ba­si­cally a tour of the cas­tle, their mu­sic sug­gest­ing what might have gone on in the var­i­ous rooms.

In fact, Brahms would sound down­right fu­tur­is­tic when com­pared to this Octet — which is as­ton­ish­ing be­cause the Octet dates from 1920, when Stravin­sky wrote his Sym­phonies of Wind In­stru­ments and Schoen­berg was on the verge of his break­through to 12-tone com­po­si­tion. Prob­a­bly 10 years had passed since I had last heard Bruch’s Octet, and on the way to the con­cert I de­scribed it to a friend as sound­ing as if it was from 1870. My mem­ory de­ceived me by about three decades; for the most part, the piece could have been born in the 1840s. One read in the pro­gram notes that Bruch may have drawn some in­spi­ra­tion from Men­delssohn’s Octet for Strings (Bruch’s bi­og­ra­pher Christo­pher Fi­field said that, too). In­deed, there is a Men­delssoh­nian as­pect to parts of this piece, but it’s hard to hear spe­cific points of con­tact with that mas­ter­work, which dated from 1825. Men­delssohn’s piece has four move­ments, Bruch’s has three. They em­ploy a dif­fer­ently con­structed en­sem­ble; Men­delssohn calls for four vi­o­lins, two vi­o­las, and two cel­los, whereas Bruch trades in one of the cel­los for a dou­ble bass, which aug­ments the sonic depth. More im­por­tant, though, Men­delssohn re­ally de­ploys his play­ers as an en­sem­ble of eight equals. Bruch ap­proaches the group more in the spirit of the “dou­ble quar­tets” of Louis Spohr, with one string quar­tet (here vi­o­lin­ists Martin Beaver and Owen Dalby, vi­olist Ida Kavafian, and cel­list Ti­mothy Eddy) in the van­guard and the other (vi­o­lin­ists Todd and Daniel Phillips, vi­o­lin­ist Steven Te­nen­bom, and dou­ble bassist Mark Tatum) tend­ing to­ward an ac­com­pa­ni­men­tal role. The Phillipses, Te­nen­bom, and Eddy are oth­er­wise known as the Orion String Quar­tet; Beaver was with the now de­funct Tokyo String Quar­tet; and Dalby is with the St. Lawrence String Quar­tet — so some ex­pe­ri­enced cham­ber-mu­sic hands were at work in this forth­right in­ter­pre­ta­tion. I was par­tic­u­larly taken with Beaver’s play­ing in the lead seat; as in other con­certs I have heard him play this sea­son, he of­fered beau­ti­fully cul­ti­vated tone and el­e­gant phras­ing.

Bruch’s Octet is more than just tech­ni­cally unim­peach­able. It has a lot go­ing for it, one of its strong points be­ing that it builds through each of its move­ments; the sec­ond is bet­ter than the first, the third bet­ter than the sec­ond. That fi­nal move­ment, an Al­le­gro molto, shows real oomph. Its third main theme (I guess you would call it) is es­pe­cially mem­o­rable; it rises out of the deep strings with spa­cious dig­nity — al­most like an up­lift­ing hymn — be­neath the scur­ry­ing of the vi­o­lins. I first got to know Bruch’s Octet through a fine record­ing made in 1995, now long out of print, by the Bronx Arts En­sem­ble. One of the de­lights of that CD, which can prob­a­bly be tracked down through in­ter­net sources, is that it was cou­pled with the Septet (clar­inet, bas­soon, horn, vi­olin, vi­ola, cello, and dou­ble bass) that Bruch com­posed in 1849, when he was eleven years old. You would never, ever guess it was the work of so young a com­poser, and it would be hard to think of an­other case where a CD could con­tain sig­nif­i­cant pieces any com­poser wrote 71 years apart. (You could come close with El­liott Carter, but only if you used the orig­i­nal ver­sion of an early piece he later rewrote.)

Bruch’s Octet has been recorded a cou­ple of times since then, and a splen­did new read­ing by the Nash En­sem­ble — one of Bri­tain’s most no­table cham­ber groups — is just out on the Hype­r­ion la­bel. It is a cel­e­bra­tion of late Bruch, of­fer­ing not only the 1920 Octet but also two string quin­tets from 1918. None of these pieces was pub­lished dur­ing his life­time. One of them, the Quin­tet in A mi­nor, was played in a Bruch memo­rial con­cert shortly af­ter he died, but all three re­ceived their pub­lic pre­mieres only in 1937-1938, in BBC broad­casts. The quin­tets show Bruch’s Brahm­sian side more clearly than the Octet does, and the Nash En­sem­ble ren­ders all of them with in­spired con­vic­tion.

Brett Dean

Ju­lian Anderson

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.