Contemporary Music from…Luxembourg!

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2021 winnerBOUMANS: Melosis. PÜTZ: Moods. SANAVIA: Hélice. ZELIANKO: Sonata della Farfale. WILTGEN: Orbital Resonances / Solistes Européens; Christoph König, cond . Naxos 8.579059

This has to be one of the strangest CDs ever issued by Naxos: a collection of modern music written by composers born between 1959 and 1983 from Luxembourg, a Grand Duchy of only 998 square miles on the border between France and the Netherlands. This is the country lampooned by Leonard Wibberley in his popular book (later a movie) The Mouse That Roared, in which the Duchy of “Grand Fenwick” successfully invades and takes over the United States while everyone is in lockdown during an air raid drill.

I brought up The Mouse That Roared because, in a musical sense at least, that is what these composers are trying to do, “roar” loudly enough so that someone outside of Luxy pays them some attention. And indeed the first piece on this CD, Ivan Boumans’ Melosis, is an excellent piece resembling some of the French moderns of the late 20th century. It is an energetic work utilizing an essentially atonal atmosphere in which strings, brass and tympani interact in a constant struggle for attention, with a slower, more lyrical episode in the middle featuring a brief viola solo and interaction with the vibes and French horn. The composer’s notes reveal his affection for the music of Dutilleux, which he was analyzing when involved in a discussion with a medical student talking about melosis and mitosis. At the 9:20 mark, a set rhythm finally asserts itself as the winds cavort around the horns before moving into a pseudo-Latin kind of beat. Like all the works on this CD, this is a premiere recording.

Marco Pütz, the oldest composer represented on this disc, contributes Moods (2013), a tribute to the composer’s father-in-law Robert Weller. This one has fairly tonal upper lines played over altered chords positions, which makes it sound atonal when those chords are “rootless” and tonal when they are not. This, too, is an excellent piece that by and large would not offend too many concertgoers who normally shy away from “modern music,” whether it be eight or eighty years old. There is an explosive middle section with a moving bass line beneath the frenetic playing of brass and tympani.

Jeannot Sanavia’s Helice is a lighter, airier work yet no less interesting or well composed. Its moto perpetuo rhythm is meant to depict a propeller and parts of a plane as depicted in a 1937 fresco by French artist Sonia Delaunay. It is marked by some very complex and clever contrasting rhythms, a colorful orchestral palette, and intermittent moments of both a regular motor rhythm and syncopation. Sanavia also likes to use the tympani.

Next up is Sonata della Farfale  by Tatsiana Zelianko, a modern-day “sonata da camera” using microtones in both the solo and ensemble string parts, yet still developing her themes in a creative and interesting manner. The second and third movements depart even further from Zelianko’s 18th-century model, but are also interesting and effective music, ending with a mechanical-sounding “Allegretto volante.”

The program ends with Roland Wiltgen’s Orbital Resonances, the “spaciest” and most amorphous piece on this CD. Light, airy, swirling sounds congeal to produce a feeling of weightlessness, though a rather rude-sounding French horn makes its interjections to try to break up the mood, before the music becomes faster, louder and brassier while the glockenspiel continues to flit around in the background and the lower strings play a repeated rhythmic motif, later taken over by the upper strings with trombone interjections.

I have to admit that this CD took me by complete surprise, not because the music was good but because it was GREAT. There is not a poor piece on this CD, all is played with great precision and energy by Solistes Européens, and the recorded sound is just resonant enough to give some space around the orchestra without swamping it in excess reverb. This is a gem of a record!

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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