HENRIK SCHWARTZ: “Instruments” [TrackList follows] – Sunday Music Records/ Sony Classical

by | May 24, 2015 | Classical CD Reviews

HENRIK SCHWARTZ: “Instruments” [TrackList follows] – Sunday Music Records/ Sony Classical 88875052952, 41:35 ****:

(Orchestral arrangements of Henrik Schwartz featuring Tokio Secret Orchestra arranged by Johannes Brecht)

In an unusual twist, Henrik Schwarz has pursued a career in German deep house music, while exploring classical and jazz formats. His skill at remixing music for clubs (including songs by James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Boy George) has brought him eminence as a DJ. Additionally, he has produced with Mary J. Blige and Coldplay. Schwarz became a pioneer in the live laptop performance scene. His music embraces minimalist format, but he collaborates with orchestras for his own compositions, some of which are commissioned.

For his latest album, Instruments, Schwarz has taken a classical large chamber approach to interpreting his electronic dance music. With the Tokio Secret Orchestra (conducted by Emi Akiyama) providing violins, violas, cellos, double basses, woodwinds, bass clarinets and percussion, the sessions were recorded at Tsukiji Hongahji Temple. Arranged by Johannes Brecht, seven tracks are interpreted in an organic, “kick drum free” frameworks. The opening track, “Walk Music Four” (a reworking of “club” material) begins with a vibraphone/string counterpoint that builds a repeat refrain. At the 2:00 mark a rhythmic shift transition with bass clarinet and concise 4/4 percussion sets against accented strings. In the third part (or movement), the atmospheric dynamics return with the expanded instrumentation of the previous segment. “Marvin Two”, comprised of bass, flute, viola and cello surround a single note with syncopated accents. This mood is interrupted (for a long second) with a gong. There appear to be transitions from theatrical festiveness and whimsy to dramatic accent. At nearly ten-and-a-half minutes, it is the longest track on Instruments.

The translation of computer generated, electronic compositions to classical dynamics is complicated. On “Leave My Head Alone Brain Seven” the aesthetics are eloquent. There is a cinematic flow in this arrangement with pulsating strings and significant reed enhancement (including a bassett horn). This piece is the most fluent elucidation. A change of pace can be heard on “In Bjorndal”, a brief (1:37) meditative song with lyrical violin, cello and delicate vibraphone. “Cloud Three” establishes a subtle agility and instrument mix, but with the ever-present rhythmic undertones. The violins add melodic depth, and the introduction of march-time drums complements the glowing, sprightly mix. A different resonance can be found on “Wamims”, with more emphasis on tonal sustain underneath the reeds. What the orchestra creates on many of the songs is an acoustic equivalent to the repeat or loop facets of electronic dance music. But there is a gripping classicism (especially with strings) on cuts like “I Exist Because Of You Two” that add modern touches (like percussion) to the mix.

Highly stylistic, Instruments is capable of transcending the structural parameters of a hybrid musical treatment. The sound mix is excellent, and the array of reeds glows with textural warmth. The aural qualities of the Buddhist temple add to the sonic integrity. This is an intriguing project that has complexity and innate musicality.

TrackList: Walk Music Four; Marvin Two; Leave My Head Alone Brain Seven; In Bjorndal; Clouds Three; Wamims; I Exist Because Of You Two

–Robbie Gerson