Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Jürg Frey - more or less (New Focus Recordings)

Three compositions of Frey's recorded by the a.pe.ri.od.ic ensemble (Alex Temple, synthesizer, melodica; Ammie Brod, viola; Billie Howard, violin, auxiliary instruments; Eliza Bangert, flute; Jeff Kimmel, bass clarinet; Kenn Kumpf, voice, whistle; Matthew Oliphant, French horn, auxiliary instruments; Nomi Epstein, piano, auxiliary instruments; Nora Barton, cello, auxiliary instruments; Robert Reinhart, voice, bassoon).

"more or less normal" (2005-2007) is a standout for me. Frey has always been one of the, if not the, most overtly melodic composers in the Wandelweiser group and, though there's not anything like a clear melody in play here, the whole sense of the piece is a kind of luxuriation in the tonal, a bed from which the melodic could easily spring. I'm reminded of a more fleshed out variation on Feldman works like "Why Patterns?" or "Crippled Symmetry" (flute and piano ring through brightly). There are hazy, mass fluctuations of groupings--hazy, but never moving without purpose, like fogs clouds moving slowly over a landscape, feeling and undulating with the ground beneath. A gorgeous work, almost maximalist in breadth.

"canones incerti" (2010) has been recorded by the Dedalus Ensemble on the wonderful Potlatch from 2013 (see my write-up here). The earlier performance was very delicate and firmly embedded in an audible, urban soundscape. Here, the a.pe.ri.od.ic ensemble offers a somewhat more robust reading (in studio, I assume) and it's equally effective. Like all the works on this release, and common to Frey, the performers have wide latitude with regard to their negotiating a way through the score, here choosing when to initiate and play their two lines. Akin to the above, though sounding quite different, there's a strong feeling of shifting masses, here more laminar and semi-solid. So lovely when, as near the conclusion, the bulk of the instruments subside, leaving a lone voice, in this case piano. Beautiful piece.

"60 pieces of sound" (2009) is a tougher nut to crack. True to its title (I think; not that I've counted), it's made up of 60 sound blocks (about ten seconds each) separated by silences (some 15 seconds in duration). The sounds are dense and even a bit rough, the latter quality provided by some rustling apparatus, the tones shifting, presumably at some discretion of the instrumentalists. There's not the flow of the previous works and the fairly abrupt demarcations between sound and silence lend an opaque aspect to the music that, for me, is difficult to embrace. But taken int he context of the recording, it's a good offset, can be read as the other side of the coin from its precedents. P;us, of course, I may simply not be getting everything out of it I should.

Epstein writes: "Across the three compositions, Frey gives the performers aesthetic impulse and direction coupled with a sense of freedom. Patience for the sonorous outcome is required. The sonic space is left with a fluctuating balance of what might happen (or what the players hope to happen) with the actual realization. Performers must give in to the unknown, knowing their role within the piece is both small and essential."

This is more than enough. A fine recording, expertly realized, do give a listen.

In Focus Recordings

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