Notes and Editorial Reviews
Steve Martland burst onto the musical scene with his strongly impressive orchestral work Babi Yar (1983)... He went on composing music characterised by raw energy, sometimes akin to the so-called Dutch Minimalism of Louis Andriessen.
-- Hubert Culot, MusicWeb International
...The grimly probing Babi Y ar, as performed by this fine Netherlands ensemble, has been produced in a way the classical buff cannot but approve, as has the motoric Drill, for two pianos. As do all good recordings of acoustic art music, this one imitates, in the case of Babi Y ar remarkably successfully, live performance's dimensionality, dynamic and timbre...
Steve Martland participates as, of course, a
distinctive individual in an attitude toward music I've elsewhere described as brutalist, a term, properly speaking, from architecture's vocabulary. Similar figures come to mind: Michael Gordon and his Michael Gordon Philharmonic and Arnold Drayblatt's Orchestra of Excited Strings (see respectively, with hearty recommendation, CRI Emergency Music 636, Big Noise from Nicaragua, and Tzadik TZ 7004, Animal Behavior). An on-again/off-again soulmate, the Netherlands composer Louis Andriessen, contributes a short appreciation of Babi Yar, and it too bears quoting in part: “Strangely enough, music is always judged by its beauty. Strangely enough, because good composers only rarely strive for something which people call beautiful. Composers strive for clearness, functionality, explicitness, emotional expressiveness sometimes; they want to move listeners, to shock them, or to clarify things. They want to pose problems, not to solve them. They want to show that the world, including the world of thinking, is more complex than we want to think.“ In science and technology, humanity builds on what it knows in exponential haste. Art does not build so much as reflect on its period with insights and surprise. We've only to look at Caravaggio and De Kooning. In Caravaggio's lifetime, had De Kooning painted as he did, he'd have been shut away as a madman or burned; how strange a bird Caravaggio would have seemed transported to our own midcentury, particularly with characters like Dali on the scene. Art speaks to, or when it's very, very good, anticipates, and directs its time. Thus it is, I think, with brutalists like Martland, whose music engages the Zeitgeist's seamy side in salutary contrast to the ear-confectioners who seek to insulate the listener from what Martland et al., delight in scrutinizing with their harsh, unfiltered lights. Apart from the witless pabulum called New Age and ambient music, it's interesting that American minimalism provides the best examples of ear-candy I can think of, in the music particularly of the post-Einstein Philip Glass, whose Low Symphony most certainly is. On the other hand, the postminimalist (so called) William Duckworth raises the idiom to quite glorious heights. An aesthetic system, an /5m, can be any number of things, including an artist's plaything.
Nor, to return to Martland, do I intend to leave the reader with a portrait of a scowling qua-siskinhead. Drill (1987), for two pianos, is as rich in humor as it is in raffish élan and forward-flying drive, and I'm certain that my happy reaction owes in good measure to the music's wonderful executants, Gerhard Bouwhuis and Cees van Zeeland, for whom the piece was written and whose “steamhammer fingers,“ from Stevan Keane's Factory notes, destroyed in rehearsal eleven piano strings. And, as I say, it's our kind of recording! Yevtushenko's?aW Yar resurrects the Nazi massacre of Jews at the site so named. As occasion for sober reflection, Martland's work for orchestra picks its way through hateful terrain. Babi Yar begins with a frightening discord that slowly fades to an ominous soundplane giving onto a field peppered with jagged shards, thence to shorter-held, chordal soundplanes relating in spirit and shape to the first. While percussive bursts may be taken for gunfire, the piece plays better as a disquieted and disquieting rumination on inhumanity—bitterly furious stuff that, given its length and scope (33:22), bashes its repetitive way in classically convincing form, if I may be permitted to heap my share of abuse on a beleaguered term. Only when we come to the last of five sections do we enter a chilling sanctuary, and a very effective contrast it is. Within the terms of its horrific milieu, the impression Babi Yar makes is much more akin to late-century art music than to pop. Recommended without codicil.
-- Mike Silverton, FANFARE [3/1996] Read less
Works on This Recording
Drill by Steve Martland
Gerard Bouwhuis (Piano),
Cees Vanzeeland (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Babi Yar by Steve Martland
Hague Residentie Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1983; England
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