Classical CD Reviews

“Abhanden” = Works of UNG, VIVIER, DEHAAN, GREENWALD, BALTER & BROWN – Chris Wild, cello/ Ens. Dal Niente – Navona

A very eclectic program, just a little unsettling in places.

Published on February 7, 2014

“Abhanden” = CHINARY UNG: Spiral; CLAUDE VIVIER: Piece pour Violoncelle et Piano; DANIEL DEHAAN: If It Encounters the Animal, It Becomes Animalized; ANDREW GREENWALD: Jeku (II); MARCOS BALTER: Memoria; ELIZA BROWN: Ich Bin Der Welt Abhanden Gekommen– Chris Wild, cello/Ensemble Dal Niente – Navona NV5940, 57:56 [Distr. by Naxos] (1/28/14) ***:

Chris Wild is young, very talented Chicago based cellist with a great understanding of and affinity for modern music. In fact, he was a founding member of the cutting edge new music ensemble Dal Niente and has played with them and conducted them in several interesting concerts throughout the greater Chicago area and at Northern Illinois University. So, one should expect this collection to be very contemporary, quite interesting and offering a diverse mix that will appeal mostly to those attuned to the unusual.

The collection begins with Chinary Ung’s Spiral – one of a series of pieces that this Cambodian-born composer has entitled Spiral. I have heard many of these works and they are all colorful compositions that are a sort of reflection on the music and culture of southeast Asia. This one is scored for solo cello with piano and percussion and illustrates the model well. The cello is placed in a kind of singing role surrounded by sounds that envelope; that comment on and, occasionally, engulf the solo voice. This is a very interesting work and has wide appeal.

The ‘Piece for Violoncello and Piano’ by the late Canadian Claude Vivier (murdered at age thirty-four, I read!) is a compelling but a bit disturbing in its intensity. There is a kind of French rhapsodic feel that runs throughout but the interplay between the voices and, even the sounds achieved by some of the cello techniques is a bit unsettling. The work moves slowly and maybe the tragedy of the composer’s early demise adds to the tension; I felt that way.

Chicagoan Daniel Dehaan’s If It Becomes the Animal, It Become Animalized is a very unusual work with a definitely avant-garde feel. (Incidentally, editorial crew at Navona: you do great work but proofread the titles before printing as it is on the back cover as If It Encounters the Animal, If It Becomes Animalized) In fact, this strange tour de force for the soloist requires extreme control and extended techniques but it is just a bit difficult to listen to. The cello and/or cellist almost “becomes” a beast out of nothingness (as the title implies).

Andrew Greenwald’s Jeku (II) is a very abstract and pointillistic duet for cello and violin. Greenwad describes his work as “…pixelated…viewed at increasing resolutions.” Certainly the sound material exists in small, shared cells that grow in intensity and emerge in various perspectives to each other between the two instruments and within the context of the whole. There is a Jeku (I) for violin and cello as well and this work feels, from what I can tell, like a continuation or outgrowth of the material and ideas in the first work. This is, however, pretty abstract and cerebral stuff that only some listeners might appreciate. Wild and violinist Austin Wulliman have collaborated before and are both very skilled players familiar with this type of music.

Memoria by Marcos Balter is a work for solo cello that has an attractive, elegiac quality to it. Through some harmonic fluttering and bits of mournful melody the work paints a moving memorial to a person or event unnamed. Balter is a young, talented Chicago-based artist who studied with Augusta Read Thomas, among others.

Eliza Brown’s Ich Bin Der Welt Abhanden Gekommen (“I am lost {abandoned} to the world”) takes its title and inspiration from the Mahler setting of the Rückert poem of the same name. This is a truly fascinating aria for soprano and cello; in this case the soprano is Amanda DeBoer Bartlett. At times it seems to hauntingly echo or conjure up the Rückert Lieder and, at other times, it seems to be a ghostly aberration of the same. In this case – as well as in the Mahler – the longing, “lost” imagery in the text comes through. Brown is on the composition faculty of Northwestern and is a very talented emerging composer.

Chicago has been a center for new music in this country for a long time now. I remember my own past playing in new music ensembles in college and trying brand new pieces by composers who drove the artistic engine at the time. I am very glad to see dedicated performers like Chris Wild and the members of Dal Niente continue that tradition. I admired all the works in this program, although I admit that those by Brown, Balter and Ung resonated with me the most. I think listeners should approach this disc realizing this is what some consider “cutting edge” contemporary music. This is not the “neo-Romantic” rep that has been very popular (understandably) in symphony halls. This is a more challenging, provocative and – occasionally – unsettling collection than that; but is well-performed and well- recorded, as always, by Navona.

—Daniel Coombs




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