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Brian John Peter Ferneyhough is an English composer of contemporary classical music. His complex, multi-layered music is distinctive and his output spans many genres of contemporary music, from chamber works to orchestral pieces. Between 1987 and 1999 he was Professor of Music at the University of California at San Diego. As of 1999, he is William H. Bonsall Professor in Music at Stanford University. For the 2007-08 academic year, he was appointed Visiting Professor at the Harvard University Department of Music.
by Carl Rosman
Digital Booklet: Brian Ferneyhough: Chamber Music
Digital Booklet: Brian Ferneyhough: Chamber Music
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It is important to say that all of these pieces (except one) have already been recorded. I will briefly compare these versions with the other ones available, since this is the kind of stuff I am most preocuppied when buying. But please keep in mind that the "definitive version" rhetoric rarely makes sense, and especially with pieces of this depth and complexity. For the density of the musical events is sometimes such that by giving more importance to a gesture than to another at any given point (and the interpreter must do this all the time), the music changes more from one interpretation to the other than one would expect. This is one of the beauties, I would say, of classical music in general, but it is nice to see that it applies to this kind of hypermodernist expression as well.
There are currently two versions of this incredible mini violin concerto; the other one is with the mighty Irvine Arditti. I am sorry that orange record with the 4th quartet is now out of print... It is gorgeous.
Now, the two versions are clearly quite different. I feel Graeme Jennings' one is more vibrant and muscular (i'd say its like a second order sports event on top of a sophisticated, fragile ground of gesture speculation); it has a wonderful, elegant energy to it, while Irvine Arditti's is more bitterweet (you can tell he is older, more seasoned). In the Arditti rendition the music is almost sad, which is a rather unfrequent (for me) feeling in Ferney, that is, sad without trying to be witty and despite all the surface activity. I like both approaches; I see them as complementary.
But Graeme certainly plays the begining of the piece more convincingly, very forcefully, without loosing detail despite the exhuberant display of energetic playing. On the other hand, the violin part is for the most part blended with the ensemble in a clearer way -you get to hear more detail- in the Arditti version (and the ensemble is also a bit more articulated in that orange record; even jazzy sounding in a couple of spots -this is a big plus for me). But Irvine, with all of his experience and sophistication, can be a bit dry as well... I'll give you a striking example: I had never noticed the sublime beauty of Terrain's ending. That's because it is just not really there in the Arditti version (I sense a little lack of stamina toward the end). Honestly, this ending must be among Ferney's most beautiful moments, and to me worth the price of the new record alone.
In any case, in both versions you get the feeling that these men, who as you must know played together in the Arditti quartet for more than a decade, understand Ferneyhough's music better than anyone else today, being able to render highly individualised performances of a stunninigly difficult piece.
2) No time (at all):
This is a piece for two guitars; it is the only one in this record that is not a miniconcerto. It features here nevertheless for it is connected with "Les froissements", sharing some of it's materials. It is also the only piece that is not recorded anywhere else. I wasn't expecting much (for some reason I never expect much of solo pieces, even if Ferneyhough keeps surprising me with little solo gems every once in a while), but ended up listening to it quite frequently. Ok, I like it very much. I'd say it is at least as good as the piece for guitar featured in the Arditti record with the string quartet (probably better).
3) La chute d'Icare
I don't know why I didn't use to think much of this one (it has been recorded once in a record that is now out of print I believe). It is a powerful piece for clarinet and small ensemble, the oldest one here (it is form 88 - all the others are from the 90's or 00's). It is curious... when I first heard it its complexity struck me, but now retrospectively I think it is totally standard for Ferney complexity-wise. Terrain's solo part is something else, for example. No, what strikes me now is how beautiful and expressive it is. And this version is even more appealing than the previous one, more clearly articulated, with little timbral subtleties that made me fall in love it at last. Note for exampe that the climax around minute four is rendered in a much more satisfying way in the the Elision version. Also, the "shout" of the soloist around minute six. It finally sounds almost like a free jazz sound. Very cool.
Just another detail: this one, as well as Les Froissements, features the piano; I mention it not only because Ferneyhough's piano writing is excellent but also because Marylin Nonken is the pianist of the Elision Ensemble, and she is very good. You will notice the difference in quality of the piano playing immediately.
There are three readings of Incipits that I know of; the other two are: a) the one featured in a record with Flurries and the trio, and b) the one by Ensemble exposé. So I guess it is one of Ferney's most recorded compositions, and with good reason. Incipits contains in my opinion some of Ferney's most lyrical moments (it reminds me by spots a bit of the voiceless parts of Le marteau); thus, I like it played with delicacy, not fast and self consciously hypermodern. Now, the percussion part is difficult to blend well with the small ensemble, to make sense of it, so this is an important point as well. My verdict: althought this version is good, the most impressive one in both of these areas is the one by Ensemble exposé, hands down. In fact I'd say it is the only one where the use of the percusion fully makes sense.
Perhaps this is the weakest spot of the album, even if, I must insist, the performance is not bad at all.
5) Les froissements d'ailes de Gabriel
This was to me the big surprise of the album. I have heard Les froissements in Shadowtime, but it sounds very different here. It is a sort of mini guitar concerto; lyrical, free floating, unrigorous in a poetical way, not concerned with impressing anyone with it's complexity, just trying to convey beautiful, inspired music - and yes, you really hear the rustling of an angel's wings! Those little timbral sophistications are worthy of a Lachenmann (although the styles of these men differ greatly), but they are not at all the focus of the piece as happens sometimes with the german guy, just little brush strokes here and there, very effective.
Well, this is quite long already. I just want to finish by saying that you need not be afraid by Ferneyhough's style at this point. Sure, he has some difficult pieces (for example the string quartets, although they are very likable as well), but the truth is that he is becoming more lyrical and melodious every year. This record shows that very well.
What a moron I was. There is nothing wrong with this version of Incipits! I was so into the version of Ensemble Exposé that I couldn't hear it's gorgeosity. It may in fact be the best one on the market. (Thanks to Etha and Michael for casting doubts on this stubborn opinion of mine)
and information about the musicians. 2. A splendid assembly of musicians. 3. CD Sound quality to die for!! 4. Four profoundly realized musical treasures and one provocative tidbit (La Chute d'lcare).
Terrain (1992)- [14:12] Maddeningly difficult virtuosic tour de force. The dynamic, other-worldly dance between soloist and ensemble takes my breath away!
no time (at all) (2004)- [7:25] Very easy to enjoy this piece on a first-listen. A fun, enjoyable romp--not too often is Ferneyhough so delightful to listen to.
La Chute d'lcare (1988)- [9:37] Intensely modern right out of the gate. Very jazz-like flow and organization. A bit extreme for prime time; but, Brian Ferneyhough--like Bob Dylan--rarely places audience pleasing at the top of his priority list.
Incipits (1996)- [11:08] A beautiful melodic composition. The obbligato nature of percussion instruments greatly enlivens the spirit of this magical offering. I love it!!
Les Froissements d'Ailes de Gabriel (2003) [17:47] This transcendental concerto is described in jest by the composer as "245 bars of total non-sequiturs." And, further described in the liner notes as "...124 fragments, each rarely more than a few seconds in length, with its own distinctive instrumentation...the material intentionally passes by too fast for one to make connections, even if they do in fact exist." (A great deal of food for thought, here.)
No 21st century living modern composer has been better served and represented on cd!! Superb job, Kairos!!!