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"Horizon 5"
Anonymous/James MacMillan: Hodie puer nascitur
Detlev Glanert: Insomnium
Klaas de Vries: Providence
Richard Rijnvos: Antarctique
Kaija Saariaho: Circle Map

Huelgas Ensemble, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Paul van Nevel (conductor), Martyn Brabbins (conductor), Markus Stenz (conductor), David Robertson (conductor), Susanna Mälkki (conductor)
Recording (Live): Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, Netherlands (November 2011, January and April 2012), Westergasfabriek, Amsterdam, Netherlands (June 2012) – 88'19
RCO Live 14001 – Booklet in English, French, German and Dutch

This generous disc from the excellent RCO Live label gives a broad overview of "new" music in Europe. The nearly 90-minute program is as varied as one could imagine, and the performances, all recorded live, are stunning.

James MacMillan's entrancing orchestration of the medieval antiphon Hodie puer nascitur finds the ancient harmonies enrobed in a tintinnabulary sonic fabric. Celesta, bells and harp are resonated by the Concertgebouw strings, adding a gorgeous halo to the expert singing of the Huelgas Ensemble. It is an engaging and beautiful opening to the program.

That enchanted world continues into the opening of Detlev Glanert's Insomnium, the lulling opening string gesture gradually becoming skewed into something more sinister. Glanert's music is, in the end, athletic and visceral, and after five minutes of near stasis we are launched into a raucous, jazz-inflected romp. The work's 21 minute span is traditionally balanced, the composer achieving a truly Mahlerian Höhepunkt about two-thirds of the way through. The denouement returns us to a world of mystery. This is virtually a concerto for orchestra and features tender playing from the Concertgebouw strings (playing in multiple divisi for large portions of the work), woodwind solos with beautiful tone and intelligent phrasing, and punchy brass and percussion work that rivals the best of the American big bands.

Klaas de Vries and Richard Rijnvos are Dutch composers new to me. De Vries' Providence, an homage of sorts to James Brown, begins with some new music clichés but eventually breaks free of expectations, taking us on a rather eclectic journey. This is dense music (the liner notes accurately describe the atmosphere as "oppressive") and the mood seems a bit earnest and heavy to be a celebration of Brown. Rijnvos' Antarctique, on the other hand, is an installation work, composed for a circular performance space. The gestures are arresting as caught in the realistic stereo sound perspective, and one yearns to hear the work performed live, with its surround sound aspects more immediate. The more economic Rijnvos piece leaves a much more striking impression than the overworked de Vries essay.

The disc closes with Kaija Saariaho's reflections on Rumi texts, incorporated into the piece via ominous-sounding pre-recorded recitations, in the original Persian. Saariaho's sensitive timbral palette, especially in her use of unusual percussion gestures, creates much imaginative text painting. There are nods to "gapped" scales that seem surprisingly obvious for a composer of her subtlety, and the six movements, all of similar length and tempo, run the risk of all sounding the same, despite the constantly varied orchestration.

The performances are led by an impressive array of new music specialist conductors. Martyn Brabbins limns the MacMillan work with a delicate touch, while Markus Stenz coaxes the appropriately monstrous sonorities at the high points of the Glanert work. David Robertson holds together the complexities of the de Vries work, while Susanna Mälkki is the star of the disc, moving between the very different works of Rijnvos and Saariaho with ease. The recorded sound is close and detailed, with surprisingly little to distinguish between the two venues used. This is a smartly-conceived disc that will thrill fans of new orchestral works and of the virtuosity of the storied Concertgebouw orchestra, on constant display here. Highly recommended.

Marcus Karl Maroney




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