Richard Blackford’s “Kalon”


BLACKFORD: Kalon. Beklemmt. Stile Concilato / Albion Qrt; Czech Philharmonic Orch.; Jirí Rožeň, cond / Signum SIGCD568

From the publicity blurb for this recording:

The Ancient Greek word Kalon was used by philosophers to describe perfect physical and moral beauty. In this recording, the Albion Quartet and the Czech Philharmonic explore the different aspects of Kalon through the context in which beauty can exist in ugliness and darkness. This record is the result of Richard Blackford’s doctorate at the University of Bristol, which investigates the use of polytempo. The recording is a way of applying the findings of his doctorate in a range of musical contexts. Kalon is unique as it explores the use of polytempo in the context of extended tonality and modality, which could be said surpasses the complexity posed by serialist works of a similar nature, such as Stockhausen’s Gruppen or Carré.

Pretty complex academic doublespeak, no?

Fortunately, the music is very interesting (I say that because the majority of modern academic classical music I’ve heard is anything but). After a solo violin introduction, the orchestra enters, playing stiff rhythms against that set up by the violinist. Then we have fun with tempo changes, during which time Blackford develops his music somewhat tonally (well, modally at least). There are brief violin solos here and there as the rhythm relaxes for a slower section, after which the tempo picks up once again. By and large, the music reminds me of some of the experiments of the 1960s using polyrhythms (he certainly isn’t the first composer to do so), but at least his music is interesting and well written.

Beklemmt opens with the orchestra, after which the violinist comes in playing high, edgy figures against it, but this quickly settles into a slow, moody series of themes with the basses prominent playing a low drone beneath. The string quartet as a unit then enters, playing music typical of the sort written for such a combination in the modern style, sounding a bit like Janáček, before the harmony becomes thornier and the polytempi work their way in. By the time we reach the halfway mark, the string quartet is playing some surprisingly late-Romantic figures, but the basses, and then the rest of the orchestra, muscle their way in with lumbering figures. Things become complex when the quartet re-enters and both groups play rhythmically complex figures against each other, but then the music becomes ever slower, almost coming to a standstill at one point, with the lower strings of the orchestra playing figures that sound like waves. Then it ends.

The third and last piece, Stile Concilato, again begins with the orchestra, this time with the violas playing tremolos and the celli playing pizzicato figures. Edgy running figures played by the rest of the strings are then heard, after which the basses play their own tremolos while the violins play pizzicato against them. Edgy string figures continue to appear in polytempo, then the orchestra stops, allowing the string quartet to enter playing a more lyrical theme. This continues for a while with the orchestra’s strings interjecting swooping figures into the mix, then the edgy orchestral string figures return in a new permutation. Like the others, this is an interesting piece.

Unfortunately, that’s all there is! The entire CD is only 23 minutes and 22 seconds long. As good as the music is, that’s a bit of a ripoff. I suggest trying to find an inexpensive download of the music files and album cover, then supplementing it with Blackford’s excellent violin concerto Niobe as played by Tamsin Waley-Cohen with the Czech Philharmonic conducted by Ben Gernon, which you can find HERE. You’ll be glad you did.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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