Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Hugh Levick - Remnants of Symmetry

Hugh Levick - Remnants of Symmetry
Hugh Levick Island & Exile, Constellation, Remnants of Symmetry; Diotima Quartet, Wilhelm Latchoumia, Nicholas Isherwood, Daniel Ciampolini, Florent Jodelet; Radio France Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 January 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Intense and serious, a selection of recent chamber music by the American composer Hugh Levick

I have to confess that the American composer Hugh Levick was a name that was new to me, though his work has included music for theatre, performance art and opera. On this disc from Radio France we have a selection of Levick's recent chamber works, Island & Exile (2011-12) for piano quintet, Constellation (2013-14) for voice and string quartet, and Remnants of Symmetry for string quartet and percussion (2013-15), performed by the Diotima Quartet (Yun-Peng Zhao, Constance Ronzattie, Franck Chevalier, Pierre Morlet), Nicholas Isherwood (baritone), Wilhelm Latchoumia (piano), Daniel Ciampolini (percussion) and Florent Jodelet (percussion).

Levick  has a background as a writer as well as a composer and performer, in fact his biography talks about him going to Paris to write a novel, but ending up returning to his roots in music. Levick studied in both Paris and the USA, with composers as diverse as Anthony Braxton, David Diamond and John Cage.

Island & Exile is an intense and serious work, dark toned and angular, which reflects German-Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin's eight month stay in Ibiza in 1932-33, during which he came to understand that certain events from his childhood echoed throughout his life. Levick reflects this in the music by using a loud chord which echoes musically throughout the piece, and as Benjamin's view of time was non-linear some of the echoes happen before the event. Levick uses fragments and motifs which he transforms and links to create a strong musical narrative, serious, and concentrated, with sharp and striking textures.

Constellation is in five movements, setting texts by William Blake and other writers, each movement reflecting a different philosophical point of view. The sound world is striking, with Nicholas Isherwood's dramatic declamation surrounded by a web of complex narration from the string quartet. Levick's writing for the voice is rather instrumental, and not always comfortable or grateful, but then again the serious and dramatic subjects that he treats are not comfortable either.

The final work on the disc Remnants of Symmetry is an evocation of the creation of the universe, nothing less, an attempt to create in musical terms the ideas of entropy, symmetry, dark matter and more. Textures here are often seductive with some magical combinations of strings and percussion.

The performances are uniformly excellent, with the musicians giving Levick's angular writing the right sort of sharp outline, yet also creating some seductive textures and ensuring that the musical narrative is coherent.

There is something rather dialectical about Levick's music, and he provides his own lucid commentary on the music in the CD booklet, yet prefacing this background is Levick's introduction, Remants of Symmetry, which is written from the point of view of The Messiah and provides an intriguing, quirky and rather sly context for what is apparently a serious and striking disc. Definitely intriguing and a sound world well worth exploring.

Hugh Levick - Island and Exile
Hugh Levick - Constellation
Hugh Levick - Remnants of Symmetry
Diotima Quartet (Yun-Peng Zhao, Constance Ronzattie, Franck Chevalier, Pierre Morlet)
Nicholas Isherwood (baritone)
Wilhelm Latchoumia (piano)
Daniel Ciampolini (percussion)
Florent Jodelet (percussion)
Recorded by Radio France, 2017
EDITIONS RADIO FRANCE 1CD [69.09]
Available from Amazon.

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