WILLEM JETHS: Yellow Darkness – NorthWest Classics

by | Jan 29, 2008 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

WILLEM JETHS: Yellow Darkness – NorthWest Classics Stereo-only SACDs (2), NWC 501217 (Distr. by Qualiton), total time 123:47, *****:

Music composer Willem Jeths was born in Holland in 1959; the selections appearing in these two SACDs released last November 2007 were recorded at different times between 2003 and 2006. It should be noted from the beginning that although these are technically high resolution SACD recordings they are not multi-channel; included are seven selections, please see below.

Jeths is a rather unusual modern composer who admittedly has found inspiration in the works of the late György Ligeti (1923-2006) and considers himself a peer of such composers as Alban Berg (1885-1935), Wolfgang Rihm (b. 1952) and Sofia Gubaidulina (b. 1931). Upon receiving these recordings this first question became evident and I felt compelled to answer if nothing else for my own benefit: does Jeths’ music challenge in any discernible way our perception of what constitutes modern western classical music? How could I begin to answer this rather subjective question was next, etc., etc? Well, I like the music of Ástor Piazzolla and his treatment of symphonic tango, and on CD 2 – track 1 I found a Bandoneon Concerto which is what makes tango a tango; to wit, I began this review by listening to this concerto.

The bandoneon is a free reed instrument in the aerophon family (a wind organ if you will) related to the concertina; it was invented in the mid 1800s by the German Heinrich Band.  From the top Jeths’ music in this beautiful concerto seems to be an intuitive mixture of polyphonic and homophonic structures and not at all planned, this is the way he feels his music and music “becomes” in an intuitive fashion, as opposed being created this or the other way. The music in this concerto shifts between polyphonic and monophonic structures in an unstructured way within subtle and abstract formal structures, always finding new paths overflowing with glorious melodies much like Piazzolla’s Adios Nonino as far as the bandoneon solo part is concerned, and skillfully crafted sound effect manipulations in the orchestra somewhat reminiscent of Gubaidulina’s type of scoring; one of her compositions comes to mind here: Feast during a plague.

Here Jeths scores both in a parallel and antiphonal fashion one instrument, the bandoneon, with a string orchestra augmented by traditional percussion and some other percussive effects. The primordial effect thus obtained is, in a paradigmatic sense, instrumental coloring by finding new sounds that have the potential within a traditional instrumental orchestration to create emotional eloquence and give color to a composition, a gut wrenching quasi-ethereal high-pitched highly logical sequence of sounds from the bandoneon. This concerto requires a virtuoso musician to be part of a virtuosic composition especially on the high registers of the bandoneon, and the soloist obliges amply and considerably better than most I have heard on this difficult instrument, including those while on a visit to Buenos Aires – the cradle of tango – not long ago.

In general terms Jeths’ music goes back to an earlier tradition, they are all highly expressive works and a clear response to the social community that surrounds us now days. Where does this type of thinking come from? I believe it was Nadia Boulanger’s (1887-1979) idea that the composer must seek to combine many pronged musical structures into discernible extrovert melodies in an intuitive manner, and at the same time make beautiful music.  This is what Jeths is doing with his life. In this sense Jeths’ music is highly introspective and the main attraction of these recordings is obviously the performance of instrumentally difficult works that achieve orchestral equilibrium balancing virtuoso effects by the soloists without making the solo parts the only reason for the music. His is music that exudes transparence and lightness of sound, and unpretentious simplicity although there is no superficial virtuosity; the ultimate result is that in the end it becomes virtuoso music with the power of beautiful and elegant harmonies.

As far as the sound is concerned it is up front (remember it’s a stereo recording) with high spatial imaging and location resolution; at the engineering level it’s able to capture, for example, extremely high-pitched bandoneon sounds such as F, G and As of the sharp and flat kind at the pianissimo level – we can barely hear them but they are there…at least on my speakers! In the final analysis these two SACDs are highly recommended for all who crave for new symphonic music of the acoustic kind, and I am one of them! All this music has a life of its own, it comes out of a deeply sensitive soul, the composer-philosopher, isn’t that what Jean-Philip Rameau was asking for around 1750?

Clarinet Concerto “Yellow Darkness” – Lars Wouters van den  Oudenweijer (clarinet) – The Brabant Philharmonic Orchestra/Marc Soustrot.
Seanchai – an afternoon, for symphony orchestra – The Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra/Bernhard Klee.
Meme, for 2 violas and ensemble – Susanne van Els and Nobuko Imai (violas) – Schöemberg Ensemble/Reimbert de Leeuw.
Ombre Cinesi, for symphony orchestra – The Brabant Symphony Orchestra/Marc Soustrot.

Bandoneon Concerto – Per Arne Glovigen (bandoneon)/The Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra/Jurjen Hempel.
Throb, for symphony orchestra – Jan Hage (organ) – The Brabant Philharmonic Orchestra/Marc Soustrot.
Falsa/Ficta – Frances-Marie Uitti (violoncello) – The Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra/Roy Goodman.

— John Nemaric


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