Saturday 20 September 2014

Finely re-mastered digital albums from Flint Juventino Beppe show his great breadth of ideas and creativity

Three of composer Flint Juventino Beppe’s previous recordings have recently been premastered and re-released as digital only albums available from iTunes and CD baby as well as via the composer’s own The FJB Fingerprint

By including all three digital albums in one review, I had intended to be fairly brief but, such are the attractions of the works recorded here, I make no apology for providing a much longer blog than usual.

The first of these recordings is entitled Seasons of Life and features a number of Beppe’s chamber and solo piano works.

Beppe’s Violin Sonata No.1, op.50 has a brilliantly vibrant, rhythmic opening for piano to the first movement, soon joined by the violin that then works out the material. This is a terrific movement with a gentler, quieter, limpid central section that reveals some lovely ideas before the piano brings the return of the opening tempo.

With the second movement, the piano introduces a thoughtful slow theme that speeds as the violin joins in a rather quixotic theme with varying rhythms brilliantly played by Håvard Daae Rognli (violin) and Wolfgang Plagge (piano)  

It is the violin that opens the last movement immediately joined by the piano in a whimsical theme that slowly becomes more insistent in the violin part with the piano providing chords against which the violinist plays and weaves his theme before, eventually speeding to the coda. This is a terrific piece full of Beppe’s distinctive rhythms.

With High Mountains of Music, Op.8, Tom Ottar Andreassen (flute)  joins Wolfgang Plagge (piano) for this two movement work that opens with Polar Nights, both players bringing a dreamy, languid quality to the theme that slowly rises upwards.  After continuing to rise and fall, the music becomes more animated as develops with some lovely arabesques for flute.

Northern Lights brings more flute arabesques weaving around the piano before increasing in tempo, halfway, with a more florid passage, full of lovely colours and textures.

People of Blue Dimension, op.4a for piano solo, features again Wolfgang Plagge and opens with Waltz of the Queen, a slow theme that gently strolls along, with lovely little decorations around a gentle waltz rhythm. Absent Brain has a rapidly descending motif that rushes ahead ending in quite an animated way. Nudification is a slow section with some nicely harmonised piano phrases before Unsteady Course, with its insistent theme, rushes forward with tumbling, descending scales and a rocking, unsteady left hand accompaniment.

A floridly harmonised Intermezzo has a slow waltz tempo that gently wanders along with some fine decorations before the strident Persecution Mania hammers out a rhythmic, bouncing theme that could, if allowed, easily become a moto perpetuum. Crushing the Giant has a frantic theme with crashing left hand chords its relaxed conclusion. Finally there is Resignation that has a lovely relaxed opening that precedes a more frantic section with cascading scales and florid piano writing, before returning to the relaxed nature of the opening.

There is some exceptionally fine playing from Wolfgang Plagge here who continues with Cookery book of Kornåld, Op.7, a four movement piece opening with the huge chords of Furious Meat, full of strength and power. A three note motif, with accompaniment high in the register, opens Siamese Cabbage, leading to a more insistent faster theme for right hand as the left holds the three note motif. Later a longer theme arrives as Plagge keeps a descending theme in his left hand that ends with the three note motif.

Born to be Popcorn has a bubbling, vibrant opening followed by calmer phrases that are repeated and interspersed before the rapidly running theme of Running Fish Cake arrives, to which the left hand adds a slightly broader motif before chords bring the coda.

The Flute Sonata No.1, Op.40 is in three movements commencing with a Moderato that opens with a lovely piano theme before the flute joins weaving its melody around the piano in this particularly fine movement that has a real forward momentum. The flute brings a rising motif to the opening of the Adagio before the piano joins and the theme develops. The piano leads forward with the flute adding a melody. The Presto brings some particularly fine flute playing as this movement hurtles off. It slows a little, with lovely flute motifs before continuing to move quickly ahead, flowing around with many attractive and rhythmically varying ideas before the sparkling coda.

There is terrific playing from Tom Ottar Andreassen and Wolfgang Plagge in this gem of a sonata.  

Wolfgang Plagge is the soloist for Seasons of Life, Op.2 a four movement work opening with Life in Development introduced by a rippling theme with a firmer left hand motif that brings a stability to the music. It develops with some lovely moments finely played with some extremely unusual and attractive ideas. Life in Prosperity moves ahead frantically and forcefully with some fine, vibrant playing. There is a slightly more subdued central section before thoughtfulness is cast aside to rush to the coda.

Life in Desperation brings a rather off-balanced rhythm creating a feeling of instability and desolation before rising in forcefulness and discord to end quietly. There is a degree of desperation in the desolate Life in Coldness with a central section that brings a warming of sound before the strident conclusion. More fine playing from Wolfgang Plagge who is joined again by Tom Ottar Andreassen for Parting, Op.20b.

A fast flowing flute and piano theme opens the first movement, soon slowing before regaining tempo. The music alternates between faster and slower and often hesitant passages with many little features, rapid piano phrases, slides and lovely flute textures. The piano opens the second movement, gently and quietly, before the flute enters with a gentle, wistful melody against a rocking piano theme.  The flute varies the melody, as does the piano, whilst keeping the rocking theme. This is simply a gorgeous movement – and what a fine, lovely coda. A fine theme for piano opens the concluding movement before the flute plays a two note figure that is developed against a repeated piano theme until the hushed coda.

There isn’t a work here that failed to keep my attention, indeed, so much of this music I found to be especially attractive. Beppe is well served by all of these fine artists.

The second of these re-issued recordings is entitled About My Grandfather and brings two of Flint Juventino Beppe’s piano concertos along with orchestral works, featuring pianist, Joachim Knoph  with Ari Rasilainen and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra

Beppe’s Piano Concerto No.2 ‘Urge’, Op.44 follows the conventional three movement format and opens with See. There is a delicate, rippling piano opening with a woodwind led orchestra. The music rises up in the orchestra as the piano continues to develop the theme. Whilst the orchestra occasionally brings more dynamic moments there remains a delicacy to the piano part. The second movement, Catch, has the orchestra introducing a flowing theme pointed up by pizzicato strings and with textures enhanced by various wind instruments. When the piano enters it brings a broader version of the orchestral theme. There is a particularly beautiful second subject featuring horns before the music rises to a climax before the quiet, atmospheric coda. The concluding movement, Push, certainly does push ahead, immediately, with piano and orchestra, determined and dynamic and with Beppe’s distinctive rapid piano phrases and a terrific forward orchestral flow.

This is a highly individual, yet hugely engaging work full of breadth, poetry and an inner depth. The piano is never used for mere virtuosic effect, though Joachim Knoph brings some powerful moments. Ari Rasilainen and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra provide terrific support.

The Piano Concerto No.3 ‘Monster’, Op.45, also in three movements, brings a different nature with the first movement, Beyond, opening with a light-hearted wandering theme for piano picked up by the orchestra. There is a jazzy element to the music that is punctuated by intricate little passages and phrases, yet overall this movement moves ahead with a swagger. Among brings a calm flowing theme for piano and orchestra with subtle little rhythmic pauses. The music slows, centrally, to a more thoughtful passage for orchestra with the piano joining this slower, darker version of the theme before leading to a particularly fine melodic section with constantly shifting harmonies that takes us to the coda. Inside opens forcefully for piano and orchestra before falling, only to build again dramatically, with timpani strokes. There are some terrific orchestral moments for wind showing Beppe’s fine skills as an orchestrator. The piano moves ahead with surges of orchestral sound, and some terrific playing from Joachim Knoph before the incisive coda.

This concerto provides some fine moments of playfulness, poetry and drama.

The four movement orchestral work, About my Grandfather, Op.37, opens with Timeless Legend where low pizzicato strings support a broader melody that flows forward confidently, pointed up occasionally by timpani. There are passages with beautifully written woodwind parts as well as subtly shifting harmonies throughout.

Horns and woodwind open Warm by Heart in a rather questioning motif before a gentle theme appears, full of warmth led by an oboe, then clarinet, in this brilliantly orchestrated piece. Running laps of Eternity is a gently rhythmic piece with a theme that is shared around the orchestra, very fleet of foot with some lovely subtly blended swirls of sound. Pizzicato basses underscore Not really Gone, a flowing movement where the woodwind keep different rhythms. For all its surface simplicity, the rhythmic aspects of this piece are remarkably finely written.

Heart Op.27 No.5 is a gorgeous little piece, full of wonderful little orchestral details and an insistent chime of bells, quiet in the background and quite haunting at times.

The final re-release takes us to another aspect of Flint Juventino Beppe’s compositional techniques, that of electro acoustic. Entitled Pictures before an Exhibition there are eight works commencing with the title work, Pictures before an Exhibition, Op.30.

With Pictures before an Exhibition, Op.30, commissioned for Ragnhild Monsen’s main exhibition at Festspillene, Bergen in 1997, Beppe creates some intoxicatingly appealing electronic sounds that are subtly integrated into a strange, melodic sound world, slowly leading through a number of striking ideas at a leisurely pace.

Trust is the theme of The Deal, Op.19 which soon develops a rich flowing theme, beautifully harmonised by many little electronic sounds, each in their own way captivating. Lovely textures appear later as well as rhythmic elements.

Moods from Røros, Op.31, drawing on the atmosphere of the town on of that name, returns us to a more thoughtful mood with a theme that is developed through a number of sections, each varying in texture and mood, often rhythmically emphatic.

Sounds of water appear in Inner Seas, Op.16, over which an orchestral sounding electronic theme is drawn. These inner seas are those of the mind that absorb the impressions of the world around us. Jazz like motifs appear as well as a myriad of textural ideas.

I stepped on a UFO, Op.23, an eventful stroll, also has a jazz related feel as it saunters along with an electronic sound very much like a vibraphone and which keeps the rhythm as many other sounds swirl and move around.

The composer is watched by the world in Eyes in the Air, Op.48 a piece which brings a faster pace and, throughout its length, goes through a number of phases, organ like sonorities, fuller orchestral like sounds, rhythmic contrasts and wild electronic sounds as well as a hauntingly strange section.

The composer remarks that as long as there is life there will be Death Dripping (Op.25) a work that opens with a little rising motif that could easily be a bird call before other sounds intrude as the music moves through many different sections with the rising motif linking the music together. Towards the end, children’s voices appear against the repeated rising motif before the music fades.

Life Giggling, Op.49 is a rhythmic and engaging piece that moves quickly forward with many frenzied themes weaving through, often shooting off suddenly and with a certain nonchalance between the frenzied activity.

This recording reveals another aspect of this fine composer, showing his great breadth of ideas and creativity.

There is much here from this distinctive composer that will reward listeners. The original recordings were first rate; the excellent re-mastering has revealed just how good these recordings are.

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