Camerata Bern Plays Modern Music

Plaisirs Illumines cover

VERESS: Musica Concertante per 12 Archi. KURTÁG: “Jelek Vi” from “Games, Signs & Messages.”1-3 GINASTERA: Concerto per Corde. BARTÓK: Pizzicato for 2 Violins.1,4 LIGETI: Baladâ şi Joc.1,4 COLL: Les Plaisirs Illuminés.1,3 Lalulalied.1,4,5 IMPROVISATION: Camerata’s Birds / 1Patricia Kopatchinskaja, 4Suyeon Kang, vln; 2Marko Milenkovic, vla; 3Thomas Kaufmann, cel; 5Kathi Steuri, bs; Camerata Bern; 6Francisco Soll, cond / Alpha Classics 580

Camerata Bern is a chamber orchestra that specializes in modern music, thus this CD is packed with such pieces, starting with Sándor Veress’ Musica Concertante and ending with a group improvisation.

I must say, however, that the Veress piece didn’t impress me much. Aside from its atonal orientation, it struck me as formulaic in the extreme. Had it been a tonal work, I could have predicted each and every variation and development in advance (except for the very opening of the third movement), but it is very well played. I did, however, like the very short (0:53) but intense Kurtág piece, and the Ginastera String Concerto is clearly one of his most interesting works, using microtones to create a sort of ambiguous atonality above the more resolute chords of the lower strings. Ginastera also as several surprises in store for the listener, such as the sudden introduction of fast, edgy passages played in unison by the string orchestra while violin and viola (and later, cello) take turns playing microtonal passages a cappella in between them. The slow movement is sparse and mysterious at the opening, explosive and intense later on.

And somehow, they make Bartók’s infrequently-heard Duo Pizzicato fit into the program as an aperitif to the Ginastera Concerto—followed by Ligeti’s Duo Balada şi Joc. Oddly, the Ligeti piece sounds more conventional than the Bartók!

Coll’s Les Plaisirs Illumines is just a tad gimmicky, but effective and well-written music just the same, and it, too plays with microtones within an atonal framework, with consistently rapid passages by both soloists and orchestra being juxtaposed and intertwined as it moves along. I also liked the way that Coll makes the bass line sound like a croaking frog by writing it in the lowest register. The second movement has a certain purity about it that harks back to Renaissance music while the third opens with screeching strings à la “Psycho” which somehow lead into atonal solo string figures and flutters while percussion suddenly makes its way into the orchestral texture. By contrast, Lalulalied sounds like bedlam, with a wacky wordless vocal by violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja. The CD ends with a rather formless but fun group improvisation as the orchestra’s strings imitate bird calls.

What a nice break from all the Mozart and Beethoven out there! Well done, Camerata Bern!

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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