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Beat Furrer: Piano Concerto, Invocation Vi, Spur, Etc / Hodges, Rundel, Hoffmann

Release Date: 03/10/2009 
Label:  Kairos   Catalog #: 12842   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Beat Furrer
Performer:  Nicolas HodgesPetra HoffmannEva FurrerIsabelle Menke,   ... 
Conductor:  Peter Rundel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Symphony OrchestraBerlin New Music Chamber Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

FURRER Piano Concerto. 1 _invocation VI. 2 _spur. 3 FAMA VI. 4 _retour an dich. 3 _lotófagos I 5 Peter Rundel, cond; 1 Nicholas Hodges (pn); 1 Petra Hoffman Read more (sop); 2 Eva Furrer (b fl, 2 cb fl 4 ); Isabelle Menke (voc); 4 Tora Augestad (sop); 5 Uli Fussenegger (db); 5 Berlin New Music C Ens; 3 Cologne West German RSO 1 KAIROS 12842 (77:10 Text and Translation)

This release came after the deadline for the previous review cycle, and I was on the verge of yelling “Stop the presses!” except for the fact that I was in the midst of departure on an overseas trip myself. So it had to wait, but I do feel that any delay in hearing this music is to your disadvantage. Beat Furrer (b. 1954) is a Swiss-born Austrian composer who came to prominence as one of the founders of Klangforum Wein, Vienna’s new music chamber orchestra (which occupies an analogous position to the London Sinfonietta, Paris Ensemble Intercontemporain, and the German Ensemble Modern). I’ve seen his name for some time, but haven’t had a chance to hear his music. This encounter has been something of a revelation.

Furrer’s music has many hallmarks of advanced European music of the past few decades. It is “notey,” complex, and often abrasive. It incorporates elements of noise and “edge-of-pitch” sounds in the manner of Lachenmann, and creates new instrumental practices based on multilevel activity for soloists, as in music of Ferneyhough. These are reference points, but Furrer has very much his own creative profile.

Unlike the other two composers mentioned, I find Furrer’s music far more engaging and “natural” in its flow. There are two big reasons for this. First is orchestration. He has an exceptional ear for piercing clarity of sound, often martellato (hammered), but bracing rather than deadening. There’s a sure balance between register, timbre, and attack in the gestures and motives. This comes through in an orchestral work like the 1998 piano quintet, spur. It’s even more evident in the three music-theater pieces, each a duet between voice and bass flute, contrabass flute, and double bass respectively. FAMA VI and invocation VI (the two with flute) are particularly arresting; Furrer is able to create a dramatic world that is simultaneously sinister and insinuating. It’s creepy and seductive at once, evoking an unnerving intimacy. And it comes out of the amazing research done into rethinking the instruments’ sounds and performance practice so that these combine with the voice into a seamless new sort of sound.

The second ingredient for aesthetic success is rhythm. The composer is able to create a funky, continuous flow of repeating figures, arpeggios, and shocking attacks that carries the listener along. You never have time to stop and reconsider what you’re hearing, as it’s always demanding you follow it to the next event. (It’s interesting that the much earlier piano trio, retour an dich (1984), has the same trademark surface sounds, but it is much more “momentary” in its formal flow, and the silences tend to interrupt, even hobble its growth.)

The music is rooted in a harmonic language that seems related to spectralist practice (grounded in the harmonic series), though, unlike its French advocates, Furrer seems content with using mostly the equal-tempered sounds of the past couple of centuries (at least more of the time), voicing them so as to suggest overtone relations. But the big revelation, again, is the use of rhythm. The sense of the return of the dance to abstract new European music is welcome indeed, and suggests a whole new life for the modernist project that seemed so tired out just a while back. Perhaps a comparison can be made to the way that contemporary architecture has moved into a new, playful sort of modernism, with shapes previously impossible to conceive or execute. Such architecture (Gehry, for example) is still clearly modernist in inspiration and practice, but it seems to have discovered a new relationship of nature and pleasure. The same for this music—natural and pleasurable, despite a certain ominous tone.

These are also all outstanding performances. I’ve been very impressed with recent releases by Kairos, and look forward to more. Note that this disc is on my Want List in this issue.

FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Piano by Beat Furrer
Performer:  Nicolas Hodges (Piano)
Conductor:  Peter Rundel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Written: 2007; Austria 
Invocation no 6 for Soprano and Bass Flute by Beat Furrer
Performer:  Petra Hoffmann (Soprano), Eva Furrer (Bass Flute)
Written: Austria 
Quintet for Piano and Strings "Spur" by Beat Furrer
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin New Music Chamber Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1998; Austria 
FAMA no 6 for Voice and Contrabass Flute by Beat Furrer
Performer:  Isabelle Menke (Voice), Eva Furrer (Contrabass Flute)
Written: 2004; Austria 
Trio for Piano and Strings "Retour an dich" by Beat Furrer
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin New Music Chamber Ensemble
Written: Austria 
Lotófagos no 1 for Soprano and Double Bass by Beat Furrer
Performer:  Tora Augestad (Soprano), Uli Fussenegger (Double Bass)
Written: 2006; Austria 

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