Notes and Editorial Reviews
When Adam Fell,
Op. 89 (2011)
Op. 19 (1965)
Marching to Carcasonne,
Op. 74 (2002)
Oliver Knussen, cond;
Peter Serkin (pn);
BBC SO; London Sinfonietta
NAXOS 8.573052 (63:06)
Though born in Berlin in 1932, when he was only a few months old Alexander Goehr moved with his family to England. His father Walter Goehr was a conductor and a composer and a former pupil of Schoenberg’s, his mother Laelia, a classically trained pianist; Mátyás Seiber and Michael Tippett were frequent visitors to the household. When the young man finally came of age, he chose to study music at the Royal Manchester College of Music, against the wishes of his father, having turned down a scholarship to read classics at Oxford. It was here that Goehr was introduced to some of the most formidable English musicians of the day including Harrison Birtwistle, Peter Maxwell Davies, and John Ogden; with them he co-founded the New Music Manchester Group. Shortly thereafter he went to study with Olivier Messiaen and Yvonne Loriod in Paris. At this time he became friends with another important musician of the time, Pierre Boulez, who introduced him to another brand of serialism—one which Goehr eventually rejected. Throughout his long career, he has been championed by some of the leading artists of his time: Boulez, Dohnányi, Doráti, Haitink, Ozawa, Du Pré, Ogdon, Ricci, in addition to Oliver Knussen and Peter Serkin featured here.
The one common trait in all of these works—compositions which stretch over a period of almost 50 years—is the composer’s manipulation and love of varied sonorities. If I had to describe this music in only one word, that word would be colorful.
When Adam Fell
is described by the composer as “a kind of Chorale Prelude consisting of a number of settings of Bach’s complete bass line [from Bach’s setting of
Durch Adams Fall ist alles verderbt
] falling from high up at the opening to extreme depths at the end.” There is a sense of bewilderment that one feels when listening to this work: A serious and lyrical strain that runs through the entire composition is at times almost ridiculed by certain instruments—like a bully mocking his much weaker prey. A prime example starts at 3:46. The nervous tension between these two forces provides the prime interest.
is a work written as a virtuoso
tour de force
for the brass, taking its inspiration from the music of Giovanni Gabrieli. It is also heavily dependent on woodwind sonorities as well as percussion instruments. The work sounds at times like a conversation, at other times like an argument—at times idyllic, at times violent. The BBC Symphony Orchestra plays this virtuosic work with panache and gusto. In
Marching to Carcasonne
the BBC SO gives way to Peter Serkin and the London Sinfonietta, who in this chamber work for piano and 12 instruments produce a much leaner and more transparent sound. This opus consists of a march, which acts almost as a ritornello refrain in its constant reoccurrence, and a series of other movements for various combinations of instruments: an invention, a chaconne, a “free” passacaglia (“Night”—for me one of the highlights of the work), and a burlesque. It ends with the longest movement (“…marching to Carcasonne, Labyrinth”) in which the composer sets up a series of roadblocks which stop the motion of the piece; eventually fragments from certain strands reappear and bring the work to its conclusion. Peter Serkin makes for a sensitive partner, though each member of the chamber group must be given his/her due here: This is a compelling work, but is only as successful as the sum of its individual parts.
This is not music that will necessarily appeal to everyone, especially at first. But given the chance—and I have listened to it many times over the course of the last month—it will grow on one. Each and every time I come back to it, I hear something new. And given the overall lyricism of this music, the sense that it is saying something in a language that I am just learning, I expect only further and greater listening rewards in the future. The sound technicians deserve equal credit in the success of this production: The sound is well balanced, the echo effects clear, and the instrumental dialog has been captured so well that, closing one’s eyes, it is hard to believe that one is not in a concert hall.
FANFARE: Scott Noriega
Works on This Recording
When Adam Fell, Op. 89 by Alexander Goehr
BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra
Pastorals, Op. 19 by Alexander Goehr
BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra
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