“Horizon 5 – Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra” = Anonymous/JAMES MACMILLAN: Hodie puer nascitur; DETLEV GLANERT: Insomnium; KLAAS DE VRIES: Providence; RICHARD RIJNVOS: Antarctique; KAIJA SAARIAHO: Circle Map – various conductors/Royal Concertgebouw Orch.– RCO Live multichannel SACD RCO 14001, 88:19 [Distr. by Naxos] (5/27/14) *****:
I have heard the last three releases in the Concertgebouw’s “Live” series featuring music of living composers in what they call their “Horizon” set. I had the good fortune to review their “Horizon 4” in June of 2012. The series itself actually goes back to about 2008 and the release pace seems to be every two years or so. I say “Bravo” both to the idea of a major European orchestra devoting a whole series to contemporary music but to most of the works chosen as well! I was quite impressed with the last two (and need to go seek out volumes one and two…) and this new one is no exception.
The first work, Hodie puer nascitur, is a choral work taken from ancient Cyprus texts from the fourteenth century and given a polyphonic, modern and very atmospheric treatment by the Scottish composer James MacMillan. MacMillan’s music can be brutally loud and violent or soft, dreamlike and reflective. It is always a bit unsettling and always fascinating. This work is sure to hold your attention.
The RCO has used works by German Detlev Glanert several times (being a composer-in-residence.) Insomnium is intended as a study for his opera-in-progress, Solaris, after the Tarkovsky science fiction film and the later Hollywood version starring George Clooney (which pays some homage to Kubrick and is quite stark and minimal with a head-scratching ending – I would love to see the finished opera!) Glanert’s music here seems to depict isolation, madness and a sense of being abandoned. This is very interesting music!
Klaas de Vries wrote his Providence also in reference to a movie; in this case, the 1977 French film (in English) of the same name starring John Gielgud as a man knowing he is dying and reflecting on his life. This is a mostly angular, nervous sounding work that has the truly odd touch of referencing the music of American soul icon James Brown. The score includes – at that point – a drum set and a harp combination with cimbalom that sounds like ‘60s guitar. DeVries offers no clear explanation other than his admiration for James Brown and the fact that “old” music tends to influence new music; much as the Gielgud character’s views on life influence a young woman in the Alain Resnais film. The whole premise is rather weird but I did enjoy the piece – also the longest work in this collection.
Antarctique by Netherlander Richard Rijnvos is, apparently, part of a series of seven orchestral works, Grand Atlas – ‘a representation of the universal world in seven musical tableaus.’ What is particularly interesting here is that Rijnvos intended this tableau, Antarctique, to be performed specifically at an abandoned gas plant in Amsterdam wherein twelve percussionists perform around the orchestra in a circle symbolizing the Arctic Circle at which all twelve global time zones converge. The work employs a journey through the “circle of fifths” too and there is sort of chronographic pulsing that runs through the piece, too, that I found quite attractive.
The Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho may be the best known name in this set and one whose music I have a continuous respect for. Circle Map is another fascinating and beautiful work for recorded speaker, using texts from the Sufi poet Rumi. The words are treated as impetus for the characteristically ethereal sounds of an orchestration that features exotic percussion and floating winds. The work also serves to symbolize mathematical rotating systems (like circle theory) and pays homage to the spinning that traditional Sufi religious ecstasy calls for. This, like all of Saariaho’s music, is strange, ethereal and hard to describe but, I think, beautiful to listen to.
I really love this whole series, what I have heard, and think that this is an excellent way to get to know some of the most vibrant names in the European new music scene. I liked all of these works, while my personal favorites were those by Saariaho, Rijnvos and Glanert. I highly recommend this latest in the RCO “Horizon” series, especially for those interested in contemporary music.