The Brandenburg Concertos by J.S. Bach combined with specially commissioned companion pieces by 6 contemporary composers.

MARK-ANTHONY TURNAGE (b.1960): Maya for Cello, 2 Oboes, Cor Anglais. Contrabassoon, 2 Horns and Strings, STEVEN MACKEY (b.1956): Triceros for Piccolo Trumpet (doubling Flugelhorn and Trumpet in C), Flute (doubling Piccolo and Alto Flute), Oboe (doubling Cor Anglais), Violin, Strings and Harpsichord, ANDERS HILLBORG (b.1954): Bach Materia for Violin and Strings, OLGA NEUWIRTH (b.1968): Aello - Ballet mécanomorphie for Flute, 2 Muted Trumpets, String Ensemble, Keyboard and Typewriter, URI CAINE (b.1956): Hamsa for Flute, Violin, Piano and String Orchestra, BRETT DEAN (b.1961): Approach - Prelude to a Canon for 2 Violas, 3 Cellos, Double Bass and Harpsichord.

Catalogue Number: 04W059

Label: BIS

Reference: 2199

Format: SACD hybrid

Price: $39.98

Description: This cleverly conceived, hugely enjoyable project embodies much of the spirit - and in varying degrees, some of the letter - of Bach’s perpetually evergreen cycle of concerti. Six contemporary composers were approached to write companion pieces for the Brandenburgs, with a few constraints in terms of instrumentation, but otherwise free rein. The result is a diverse, always approachable but never predictable, set of new works, here grouped with the Bach originals to which they make reference. Turnage gives the rich, singing voice of the cello the solo rôle in a work that suggests the depth and profundity of Bach's greatest slow movements. Sounding less directly like Bach than the other works here, it nevertheless evokes the sense of scale and universality that has led more than one commentator to metaphorically invoke the "music of the spheres" in describing Bach’s music. The soloist intones a long, lamenting line of melody, derived from the slow movement of Brandenburg #1. The music increases in passion, intensity and dissonance and abruptly stops, to be swept aside by a monumental climax which subsides into a cello cadenza. The stately opening material returns in a more embellished form to conclude the work. Mackey's trumpet concerto (for three 'horns' in sequence, often duetting with Bach’s other soloists) abounds in lively, pulsing rhythms, with a calm, bluesy chorale for a slow movement. This becomes more animated and ornamented, then gathers momentum in jittery, post-minimalistic phrases that lead to a final runaway perpetuum mobile, with Bach’s own final bars as codetta. Hillborg's riotous Bach Materia is a typically prodigiously inventive explosion of orchestral exuberance. It begins with the orchestra tuning up, then the violin soloist comes onstage practicing sotto voce figurations. He suddenly galvanizes the orchestra into a climax, which turns into a quotation from Bach’s concerto, which develops into an up-tempo transcription of Bach. Abruptly, an orchestral contrabass joins the violin in an irresistibly groovy, at least partly improvised, duo-cadenza, complete with scat-singing! The orchestra joins in, and for a while all is syncopated fun and games, until another Bach quotation ushers in an ethereal chorale, floating and timeless, which eventually dissolves into a landscape populated by a myriad birds. Perhaps thus inspired, the co-conspirators of the cadenza accompany themselves by whistling this time, before whipping up the orchestra into an immensely satisfying, high-energy, percussive rock-derived finale. Neuwirth’s Aello - one of Greek mythology's harpies - a "ballet mécanomorphe", hews most closely to its Brandenburgian model of all the works here, while simultaneously sounding the most outlandishly modern. The flute is the central character, but the ensemble is extensively transformed through extended techniques, the substitution of a synthesizer and the percussive tapping of a typewriter for the harpsichord (which isn’t as silly as it sounds; played strictly in the rhythm of the harpsichord part it nicely mimics the plucked attack of the original instrument), and four different tunings for different sections of the group. In the second movement the flute plays a constant stream of virtuoso fluttering arabesques over a shining, fluid accompaniment centered on a synthesized glass harmonica. The final movement returns to the bizarrely transmuted transcription of the 4th Brandenburg, oddly recognisable even as in the final section the mechanism starts to malfunction, getting trapped in a loop of frenetic, directionless activity. Caine reimagines the 5th Brandenburg, with its unusually soloistic rôle for the harpsichord as a full-scale piano concerto, with Bach’s other soloists as the supporting cast. Hamsa (Arabic for "five") uses the Bach as a formal template and employs its themes and motifs, though in a range of styles from astringent modern dissonance to (inevitably, given the composer’s background) jazz; the first movement cadenza now becoming an extended piano solo for the composer-pianist. Bach associations aside, this is a highly effective modern (though basically tonal) piano concerto, lively, imaginative and inventive, and full of bravura virtuosity. Dean’s Approach is an introduction to the 6th Brandenburg, a true double concerto for two violas, Dean's instrument. The tightly knit contrapuntal writing in close canon given to Bach's soloists is echoed in Dean's modern essay in the form, with its emphasis on intertwining themes, settling finally, in typical Dean style, on passages of collaborative, propulsive tonality - in the case of the last movement, leading directly into the opening of Brandenburg #6. 3 CDs. Various soloists, Swedish Chamber Orchestra; Thomas Dausgaard.


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