JULIAN SKAR (b.1981): Exhaust/Renew I for Piano Solo, Exhaust/Renew II for Piano Trio, Exhaust/Renew III for Piano Septet, Exhaust/Renew IV for Piano and Sinfonietta.
Catalogue Number: 10U077
Reference: ACD 5094
Description: The booklet notes go into excruciating detail about how these works represent some sort of profound philosophical treatise on the dichotomies between the rigidity of the computer and the freedom of improvisation, between the ubiquity of technology in popular culture and its absence in traditional 'serious' art, and suchlike. Well, OK. But most of that, arguably belongs in the composer's workshop. What you actually hear is a set of three piano pieces, which make up Exhaust/Renew I. The first is mechanical and motoric in the extreme. The second is harmonically lush and slow, and the third seems somewhat derived from Messiaen's complex and energetic rhythms - the sort of thing that Stockhausen took to extremes in his Klavierstücke. We're not told what Skar uses the computer for; likely for generating the groups of pitches and rhythmic durations in the work's complexicist sections. Maybe for the pedal drones that occasionally add texture (along with a small amount of off-keyboard extended playing) in the first movement. But the pieces, though thoroughly atonal, are not texturally dense, and are lively, energetic and appealing. The subsequent pieces recycle the same material with progressively larger instrumental groups very much in an accompanimental role - except in the final piece, which sounds like a concertante work with a definite dramatic arc - not attempted in the earlier pieces in the cycle - which rather unexpectedly provides a satisfying climax to the series that sounds suspiciously like one of the "... formulated dramas where the dialectic play between the parts of a composition become important ..." that the notes tell us the composer avoids. So, listen with an 'innocent ear' and decide for yourself ... Ingrid Andsnes (piano), Ensemble Ernst; Thomas Rimul.