Wednesday 23 March 2016

A remarkable new release from the Royal Flemish Philharmonic’s own label of Wim Henderickx’s Symphony No.1, Oboe Concerto, Groove! for Percussion and Orchestra and Empty Mind I for oboe and electronics should find a whole new following for this composer

Wim Henderickx  studied composition at the Royal Conservatoire of Music in Antwerp, where he also studied percussion. He took part in the Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik in Darmstadt and attended sonology classes at Ircam in Paris and at the Royal Conservatory of Music in The Hague.

Since 1996 Henderickx has been Composer in Residence at the Muziektheater Transparant and in 2013 he joined the Royal Flemish Philharmonic (deFilharmonie) as Artist in Residence. He teaches composition and musical analysis at the Conservatories of Music in Antwerp and Amsterdam and is also the main teacher of the Summer Composition Course for young composers in Neerpelt, Belgium. 

Royal Flemish Philharmonic label has just released a two CD set of recordings of Wim Henderickx’s Symphony No.1, Oboe Concerto, Groove! for Percussion and Orchestra and Empty Mind I for oboe and electronics performed by the Royal Flemish Philharmonic conducted by Edo de Waart  and Martyn Brabbins with oboist Piet Van Bockstal , percussionist Pieterjan Vranckx  and electronics by Jorrit Tamminga

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Symphony No. 1, At the Edge of the World relates to Wim Henderickx’s fascination with the works of art by Anish Kapoor. The composer wanted to be loyal to the tradition of the symphony but allows a link with Eastern cultures trying to let East and West dialogue and find each other in the search for the interpretation of the concept 'symphony'. At the same time he wanted to go to extremes with At the Edge of the World, exploring contrasts.

In fine movements, Marsyas is described as a three part scherzo and based on a sculpture that has three trumpet-like orifices. It brings an exceptional brilliance, a fast swirling, glittering theme that moves through passages of shimmering detail, an ever evolving texture out of which many individual instrumental details emerge.

Melancholia relates to a relatively small and introspective sculpture, opening with hushed strings through which glittering percussion sounds are heard, slowly emerging through dissonant chords in this beautifully conceived section. Later a cor anglais appears in a lovely sequence, around which orchestra and percussion gently move. Later there is a section where strings slowly and gently shift the theme around with woodwind and brass appearing subtly through the texture as the percussion add to the texture and the coda is reached.

Svayambh means ‘the self-generated’ in Sanskrit and relates to a sculpture made for London’s Royal Academy of Arts. Shimmering strings lead to more dynamic orchestral ideas as the music rushes ahead, again achieving a brilliance with percussion again adding to the texture with the use of a variety of percussion instruments. Brass and lower strings add to the weight of sound, though never losing the earlier transparency in the upper orchestra, eventually gaining a subtle rhythm before suddenly ending.

At the Edge of the World is a gigantic rust red dome that inspired the composer to bring a timeless quality, building layers of chords. It opens with little orchestral blossomings as instrumental ideas emerge. Delicate percussion touches add a slightly Eastern feel. There are chattering woodwind sounds and the feel of a large acoustic conjured by Henderickx’s subtle and quite wonderfully brilliant orchestration. Here he has created strange and beautiful textures that glitter and expand in this quite magical movement. Distant, remote sounds are heard and later little wavering orchestral sounds.  A flourish of woodwind appears in the ever changing texture with percussion adding to a shimmering woodwind section, adding strange sounds as the music continues its hushed gentle way until fading at the end.

Leviathan is described here as a monstrous inflatable object designed by Kapoor for the Grand Palais in Paris. The music brings a sudden change as the orchestra opens on a dramatic chord moving forward in a rather menacing fashion before swirling strings and woodwind lead on. Tubular bells are heard before the dramatic orchestra returns, beefed up by bass drum and timpani rolls. Later the music suddenly rushes forward in a rhythmic passage around which the orchestra create a fine rich texture. The music soon falls to a quieter, slower, more mysterious passage but the dramatic outbursts return with rasping brass and scurrying strings as the music builds to a pitch underpinned by percussion to a sudden end.

This is a tremendous symphony that brings many wonderful textures and colours in Henderickx’s fine orchestration.  Edo de Waart and the Royal Flemish Philharmonic provide an impressive performance.

Wim Henderickx wrote his Empty Mind I as a piece for oboe and electronics with electronic manipulation of the oboe in order to produce what the composer calls a ‘superoboe.’ This original work appears at the end of the second disc of this set. It is Henderickx’s expansion of the work into his Oboe concerto, Empty Mind I for oboe, orchestra and electronics that follows. In six movements the electronics are interspersed with and complemented by orchestral instruments arranged in small groups.

The first movement, Awakening has a hushed opening as though faint sounds are heard through a breeze out of which dissonant woodwinds cry. The solo oboe brings a melancholy theme with a drooping woodwind accompaniment, soon surrounded by gentle strings and percussion. Soloist, Piet Van Bockstal delivers the most wonderful sounds as the piece develops, drifting in and out of the orchestral texture in this rather ear catching, intoxicating movement. The music moves through a gentler moment before the oboe brings its anxious cry with some of the most subtle use of percussion and electronics creating a wonderful backdrop before a haunting coda.

In Without Desires the soloist continues to weave some stunningly beautiful, strange harmonies over a glistening orchestral backdrop. A solo violin appears with strange yet beautiful electronic sounds, the soloist weaving some terrific passages, achieving some terrific sounds high in the oboe’s register as well as some distinctive lower textures. At times, the oboe and electronics seem to create the sound of a Redgate oboe , an instrument designed to expand the scope of the ordinary instrument.   Later there is a particularly beautiful hushed moment as the oboe gently sounds within a hushed orchestral texture before the coda is reached, disappearing into the silence of the opening.

Oboe and orchestra move off quickly in Ecstacy, a bubbling lively theme, before slowing as the oboe and orchestra bring some delicate textures. The oboe develops the theme bringing more fine timbres and textures from his instrument before the music picks up to move quickly ahead. Eventually there is a haunting hushed section full of delicate sounds that brings about the coda.

Contemplation opens with the most amazing dynamic sounds from oboe and brass, full of raucous textures but soon finding the melancholy of the earlier movement with instrumental drooping motifs as the soloist weaves around. The opening statement, for oboe and brass, returns to lead into a louder version of the melancholy theme with more raucous outbursts occurring. Here they bring rather Eastern sounding textures. The oboe and strange orchestral/electronic accompaniment continue with, later the most wonderful hushed section for orchestra, electronics and oboe, quite miraculous in its sound before the hushed end.

Secret Glance brings a lighter, flowing buoyant theme as the oboe and orchestra quickly flow ahead. Soon there is a slower passage that picks up on the melancholy earlier moments but the flow is quickly regained with Henderickx finding a lovely light glittering texture. There is a further hushed, melancholy passage with the most exquisite instrumental sounds before we are led to the hushed coda.

Epilogue seems to rise out of the coda of the preceding movement, the oboe slowly taking its theme forward over a slow orchestra and electronic backdrop of remarkable invention, before slowly fading through some wonderfully shifting harmonies to the coda.

Wim Henderickx brings some astonishing textures, colour and harmonies. The performance by Piet Van Bockstal is remarkable as is the orchestral contribution from the Royal Flemish Philharmonic under Martyn Brabbins and the electronics by Jorrit Tamminga.

The second disc opens with Groove! for percussion and orchestra. In five movements the first, I 1001 Nights is a meditation on Persian music using percussion instruments from the Middle East. It has a rattling good start from percussionist Pieterjan Vranckx that soon leads to a swirling orchestral passage. The music drops to a slower rhythmic passage for drums and orchestra with Henderickx bringing an exotic Eastern sound for the orchestra with some terrific rhythms for the drums. Various individual instruments shine through, including a flute, as a terrific texture is woven. The music develops quite a forward driving rhythm. The scoring is colourful as it moves through passages with terrific percussion rhythms and textures, moments of tremendous rhythmic drive, always coloured by fine textures before swirling to a fantastic wild dance in the coda.

Interlude 1 brings a hushed moment where the most delicate percussion sounds are heard picking out a little theme.

The orchestra plods falteringly forward in II Into a Mystical World, surrounded by percussion that brings a light textured, ethereal sound, aided by the shifting strings. Here Henderickx creates the most marvellous sounds, wonderful colours and textures, using orchestral winds, strings and percussion. The music moves through passages of gentle flowing calm, tinged with Eastern percussion textures. A saxophone later adds a deep rich texture that leads into a section that builds in tempo with a rhythmic drum line over an increasingly dense orchestral texture. Later the music falls suddenly to a quiet mysterious section where the solo percussion develops some exquisite sounds over gentle subtle orchestral accompaniment. Here again Henderickx’s ear for colour and texture is superb. Percussion add moments of drama before the orchestra sounds out dramatically to intense drum strokes creating a forceful onward drive. The texture lightens with a woodwind motif but the drums continue their rhythmic force to the sudden end on a drum stroke.

Interlude 2 is another quiet and gentle interlude from percussion with more wonderfully delicate sounds.

III Black Magic quickly arrives to drive ahead in a terrific rhythm with soloist and orchestra achieving some terrific ensemble as the varying rhythms bound forward. There are some very fine woodwind contributions before the soloist has a real moment to let rip on the drums bringing an intense rhythm and drive. The music quietens as the soloist slowly works the rhythm theme through some subtly conceived ideas before picking up the tempo and thundering out before the orchestra rejoins. A low saxophone joins to duet with the drums, other brass join in a tremendous moment before the whole orchestra join to rhythmically drive inexorably forward to a sudden end.

This is a percussion concerto that deserves attention. Here it receives a terrific performance from percussionist Pieterjan Vranckx with very fine support from Martyn Brabbins and the Royal Flemish Philharmonic.

Finally we come to the original version of Empty Mind I for oboe and electronics. As with the Oboe concerto, Empty Mind I, there are six movements. I Awakening develops out of a hush more quickly as the solo oboe brings its melancholy theme against a finely woven electronic layer.  The combining of solo oboe and subtle electronic sounds is wonderfully done with oboist, Piet Van Bockstal’s control against the electronics of Jorrit Tamminga superbly judged. As the music moves into II Without Desires the soloist perfectly complements the shifting electronic accompaniment, weaving some wonderful tones and textures, finding, as in the concerto, many textures from various registers of his instrument. Both soloist and electronics create some wonderful textures and harmonies.  

The electronics echo the soloist’s phrases in III Ecstacy, a wonderful combining of musical lines, textures and harmonies. The soloist brings a melancholy theme over hushed electronics as well as some brilliant faster passages for oboe, remarkably echoed by the electronics. There are many fine timbres that seem to echo and fade into the electronics.

A rich oboe texture alternates with lighter electronic and oboe phrases in IV Contemplation before some very fine, fluent oboe passages alternate with richer textured passages with the electronics supporting the richer passages. V Secret Glance brings a flowing oboe theme supported by a shifting, glittering electronic layer that quite remarkably reflects and complements the solo line before hushed electronic sounds lead into the Epilogue where the oboe picks up the sad theme. The soloist finds some fine dissonant harmonies over the electronic accompaniment with the combination of oboe and electronics creating some spellbinding harmonies, colours and textures before fading to silence.

If anything this is more remarkable than the concerto. Oboist Piet Van Bockstal delivers a superb performance with the most outstanding electronics by Jorrit Tamminga.

This remarkable release should find a whole new following for this composer. The recording is first class and there are excellent booklet notes.

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