Saturday 17 May 2014

A new release from Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Philharmonia Orchestra in works by Flint Juventino Beppe, in performances that show their belief in these fine works

In reviewing the music of Flint Juventino Beppe (b.1973) in April this year, I discovered a fine composer and brilliant orchestrator, full of subtle, distinctive ideas .

On the most recent release of music by this composer on the 2L label entitled Remote Galaxy, I found works that, if anything, are even finer.

Blu-Ray Disc

The Philharmonia Orchestra is again conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy with Ralph Rouseau (viola da gamba) , Mark van de Wiel (clarinet) and Emily Beynon (flute) . This new release is available as a Blu-ray disc, on vinyl LP and as an MP3/FLAC download.

The work that gives the title to this disc is Remote Galaxy, Op.81 a journey in sound, time and space, contemplating the immensity of the galaxy and the time taken for the light to reach us. It features the unusual sound of the glass harmonica as well as the viola da gamba.

Remote Galaxy opens with repeated bell chimes before strings, then harp appear as the music slowly rises to a pitch. Pizzicato strings introduce a slower section before the sound of a viola da gamba enters, the orchestra playing a sumptuous melody. There is a very distinctive composer at work here with a style that can soon be recognised. The music falls quieter with pizzicato strings in a moment so typical of the magic that Beppe can bring to such passages. It soon takes off again in a livelier section where the viola da gamba again appears. There is a great feeling of depth, space and movement in this music, as well as an underlying drama. There are moments of great beauty such as a string passage where the bells appear again and an attractive section for woodwind before percussion enter to firm up the rhythm. Towards the middle of the work there is a hushed section where the glass harmonica, then viola da gamba, appears as the music is held in a kind of stasis, quite separate from the openness of the other music. The viola da gamba eventually introduces a plodding theme before the music rises up with darting string passages After another hushed section the sumptuous melody, from earlier in the piece, returns in the orchestra. As the music moves forward it becomes more thoughtful, leading the listener through a variety of moods and feelings before rumblings in the depths of the orchestra bring us to a darker moment. Slowly we are lifted to a lighter, more ethereal level as the music reaches the coda where the viola da gamba and bells re-appear before the music speeds ahead, with side drum, to a sudden end.

I believe this to be one of Beppe’s finest works to date.

Distant Words, op.43b is in two movements. Typhoon at Heart opens with the strings before the clarinet of Mark van de Wiel enters in a lively, buoyant theme. Although the clarinet takes on a dominant role, it often acts as part of the ensemble. The music, as it continues, is full of attractive ideas, sometimes playful, sometimes a little melancholy. The clarinet part is often quite virtuosic, reaching the extremes of its register in this fine performance. Overall this is a movement full of fun and fine ideas for both the clarinet and the orchestra. The strings of the Philharmonia Orchestra under Vladimir Ashkenazy are on top form.

The second movement, Healed by Red Wind, leads with a gentler, forward flowing theme. When Mark van de Wiel enters, it is with a thoughtful melody set against pizzicato strings, a theme that is developed by both clarinet and orchestra. Again there are themes that are so distinctive of Beppe with some glorious melodies, superbly played by van de Wiel and the Philharmonia.

This is a terrific work that deserves to be taken up by clarinetists and orchestras.

Lost in September, Op.17 is an earlier work that takes as its theme the subject of loss, and, in particular, the loss of a dog. Timpani open this work before the brass join and the orchestra takes the melody forward, full of anguish.  Soon the music takes a more optimistic turn with woodwind dominant in the orchestration. Pizzicato strings and timpani soon pick up the pace leading to an outburst. The equilibrium returns as woodwind and brass weave a lovely tapestry of melodic sounds. The orchestra takes the melody slowly forward with some lovely sonorities. There are livelier moments, full of playfulness, surely suggesting happier times, before the slower, thoughtful sounds return. Timpani and brass bring back a tense, desolate feel before the slower theme returns, more dramatically with cymbal clashes leading to a resolute coda.

This is yet another fine work from Beppe.

Beppe provides a booklet note himself concerning Tightrope walking beneath heaven, Op.32 No.8. In this note the composer, who has Asperger’s and Tourette’s syndrome, describes how one day equals a lifetime with not an hour passing without his brain working at full speed as well as the euphoria and despair that he feels. This places a whole new understanding of the title of this work. Written in 1993 it both reflects the challenges of the tightrope walker as well as the composer’s own daily challenges.

The work opens with woodwind flourishes before a harp, then pizzicato strings, enter in a flowing, jaunty theme. Soon the music takes a quieter, dramatic turn, pointed up by a clarinet swirl. The music slowly edges forward with drums keeping the rhythm, in this brilliantly orchestrated piece. The clarinet returns to introduce a quiet, reflective section, before wood wind and harp herald the return of the opening jaunty theme that leads to the coda.

Lasting just under four minutes, this is a terrific little piece.

The disc that I reviewed in April, Flute Mystery, featured Beppe’s first flute concerto. The final work on this disc is his Flute Concerto No.2, Op.80 a darker and exceptionally unusual work. Wolfgang Plagge, in his booklet note, suggests that here we have the composer struggling with his demons, a description that seems perfectly valid. As with the first flute concerto, it is dedicated to flautist, Emily Beynon, the soloist on this recording.

The first movement, Alarm, rises out of timpani rolls before the organ sounds a motif. The flute enters making a great contrast as the timpani and orchestra re-appear in another dramatic passage. The woodwind then weave around the solo flute but are soon taken over by the dramatic orchestral sounds that return, complete with timpani and anvil as the music heaves up again. The plaintive flute re-appears before a jauntier second subject arrives to take the music forward, with the flute combining with the orchestra. There is a slower passage for flute and strings that soon moves forward, more quickly, in a flowing section with some distinctive orchestral touches. There are many rises and falls in drama before the dramatic coda.

A harp and orchestra open Deepest Woods before soon being joined by the flute in this gentle, flowing melody that is, nevertheless, often interrupted by more dramatic moments. Soon there is a lovely section for solo flute with some terrific playing from Emily Beynon. The timpani quietly enter to join the solo flute in a most original section before the orchestra re-joins leading to a more dramatic passage. When the music eases back, the timpani still point up the music but soon the pace quickens with some fine playing from Beynon. The harp enters as the music returns to the opening melody, soon becoming more tense before the quiet coda.

The organ opens Escaping Time Power with two dramatic chords before the flute momentarily enters. There are more chords from the organ with orchestral outbursts, again contrasting dramatically with the solo flute. The music quietens with gentle percussion but there are more outbursts underpinned by the organ. An organ motif with percussion and timpani appears several times in this brilliantly conceived passage. A xylophone appears, joined by the flute in a fine melody before cymbals quietly sound and the orchestra re-joins as the flute plays staccato notes. The organ returns dramatically before the flute makes a brief appearance as both organ and orchestra lead to the dramatic coda.

The solo flute opens Mrala with a dramatic orchestra immediately taking over and timpani pointing up the drama. Soon the solo flute re-appears in a striking motif where Beynon plays rapid staccato notes interspersed with flourishes. The music moves to a more flowing theme for flute and orchestra but the brass enter raucously. The flute holds the calm, soon accompanied by the organ but there are several brass and organ outbursts while the flute and orchestra try to keep the calm between these eruptions. Eventually the orchestra pushes forward, dramatically and dynamically, with some superb orchestration, before a sudden end.

This is a stunningly unusual flute concerto full of poetry, drama and intense feelings. As with the other works on this fine disc, it is brilliantly played by the Philharmonia Orchestra under Vladimir Ashkenazy. Emily Beynon is a superb soloist.

This is a terrific disc that I will return to often. The recorded sound is remarkably fine and there excellent booklet notes by Wolfgang Plagge and the composer. Indeed, the booklet is beautifully produced with many colour photographs and details descriptions and diagrams of orchestral placing and recording techniques.

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