the script of storms is a new record of music by Michael Hersch. It contains two pieces; each just under thirty minutes long. The first, cortex and ankle, sets fragments of poems by Christopher Middleton. The general theme is death and decay so it’s not exactly cheerful. It was written for the Klang Ensemble and is scored for their combination of saxophones, trombone, keyboards, percussion, guitar and electronics plus soprano; in this case Ah Young Hong. The vocal line is mostly high sustained notes sung with little or no vibrato though at times it becomes speech or near speech. The accompaniment varies from extremely sparse; just the occasional note from the piano, to quite dense and sometimes abrasive and dissonant. The overall effect is quite disturbing. The recording was made in the Jurrianse Zaal (Rotterdam) in 2016.
Continuing my exploration of the music of Peter Maxwell Davies I’ve been listening to a 1992 recording of a couple of very different pieces inspired by Orkney. The first is Black Pentecost from 1979. It’s somewhere between an orchestral song cycle and a symphony inspired by the threat to start mining uranium ore on Orkney (which also produced the very lovely piano piece Farewell to Stromness). It’s a four movement work for orchestra, mezzo-soprano and baritone and it’s uncompromisingly modern in idiom. The text depicts environmental destruction and decay and “the Controller”s increasingly strident justification of it as necessary to “human progress”. It begins with orchestral music evocative of the unspoiled landscape but becomes increasingly tougher with menacing brass and percussion and screechy vocals from the baritone before collapsing into a matter of fact description of environmental degradation.
One of the “selling points” of John Storgårds’ new recording of Shostakovich’s 11th Symphony (The Year 1905) with the BBC Philharmonic is that it uses real church bells rather than orchestral tubular bells for possibly the first time since the original recording by the Leningrad Phil. They are interesting but that’s not the main reason to buy this disk. There are two far stronger ones. It’s extremely well played. Storgårds conjures up an almost unbearable amount of tension and it never really relaxes. This is a performance that will have you on the edge of your seat throughout. Needless to say, he’s very well backed up by the BBC’s Salford based orchestra who produce exceptionally lovely string tone and brass that is emphatic without quite the “teeth on edge” quality of some Russian orchestras.
This review first appeared in the print edition of Opera Canada.
The 1994 recording of Peter Maxwell Davies’ opera Resurrection, previously released on Collins has now been re-released on the Naxos label. It’s a hugely ambitious and somewhat confusing work; even harder to get to grips with on CD than it might be with visuals. It’s an anarchic parody of establishment figures and attitudes executed via a pastiche of multiple musical styles.