“Nature” = DAVID LANG: Breathless; LUCIANO BERIO: Ricorrenze; DENYS BOULIANE: “… A Certain Chinese Cyclopaedia…”; NAT EVANS: Music for Breathing – The City of Tomorrow – Ravello

by | Jun 10, 2015 | Classical CD Reviews

“Nature” = DAVID LANG: Breathless; LUCIANO BERIO: Ricorrenze; DENYS BOULIANE: “… A Certain Chinese Cyclopaedia…”; NAT EVANS: Music for Breathing – The City of Tomorrow – Elise Blatchford, flute/Stuart Breczinski, oboe /Camilla Barrientos Ossio, clarinet/ Laura Miller, bassoon/ Leander Star, French horn – Ravello RR7904, 59:02, (5/12/15) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

“The City of Tomorrow” is the very clever and unusual name of a fairly new and very talented woodwind quintet. As both the group name as well as this album title, “Nature”, implies this is a collection of new and largely unknown contemporary works that examine various aspects of the natural world and what it is to be a part of the organic larger whole. The booklet notes also state that this is the first of a planned set of three discs to explore this theme. Based on this collection and the excellent performances herein, I cannot wait to hear the others!

By now, David Lang is a well-known and highly respected American composer whose music is known for its tonal and beautiful center and very diverse and creative approaches to structure. The present Breathless is a perfect example. Lang states that he wanted to create a more “democratic” quintet in which all instruments play all at once, all the time to evoke a steady, continuous evocation of the passage of time. This is a lovely and very successful work that I think all would find very appealing.

The music of Luciano Berio is of a different time and style and, of course, sounds very different from that of Lang. Ricorrenze (“Recurrences”) is inspired by a painting called “Warm Earth” by the artist Jean Dubuffet. Berio explains that imagined the quintet portraying a seed being blown about until it lands, grows and develops into a fruit-bearing tree. There is an underlying pulse that drives the work forward and there are plenty of very showy and virtuosic places for each instrument that symbolize the branches and leaves sprouting. Interestingly, Berio dedicated this work to the 60th birthday of Pierre Boulez in 1985.  This is a fascinating and impressive work that is also difficult to perform.

Denys Bouliane was a new name for me. This Canadian composer was a student of Ligeti, among others, and has a very interesting and refreshing style. The very coyly titled … A Certain Chinese Cyclopaedia… is inspired by a real and quite unusual short story of the same name by Jorge Luis Borges in which there is an encyclopedia of both real and imaginary animals. Bouliane uses this very strange concept to put together a series of musical moments, passages and motives that evoke jazz; such as Charlie Parker, which symbolize the variation in this collection of imaginary animals. In turn, the composer envisioned this as almost a musical depiction of Darwin’s “The Origin of Species.”  This concept is harder to explain than to listen to the music itself, which is catchy, sometimes frenetic and quite interesting.

The last work here is Music for Breathing by Seattle artist and composer Nat Evans. His approach to nature, in this case, is raw and realistic; not wholly idyllic. The composer explains that his own experiences of growing up with asthma inspired the title and the tone of the piece; in which both the peace but also the violence and competition for survival in nature is what the driving forces are that foment symbiosis. This particular work also requires the musicians to play conch shells and tap on stones almost like a form of ritual. Of the works here, some may find this the most abstract but it is also a fascinating work and I imagine it being fun to perform. Nat also maintains a neat website and blog that I found very interesting.

This is a truly refreshing collection of new music for wind quintet, which I always enjoy. These are great pieces which you should check out for yourself and The City of Tomorrow is a fascinating and talented ensemble. I look forward to the next release in this series!

—Daniel Coombs

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