Tuesday 26 November 2013

Julian Anderson - orchestral works

Julian Anderson - LPO 0074
This disc is one of the fruits of composer Julian Anderson's residency with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Resident since 2010, Anderson has had a number of works performed by the orchestra and this disc includes three works of them. The Discovery of Heaven was written specifically for the London Philharmonic Orchestra and premiered by them in March 2012, conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth, recorded live for this disc. Also on the disc are two of Anderson's earlier works, Fantasias and The Crazed Moon, also recorded live, conducted by Vladimir Jurowski.

Julian Anderson has had quite a number of residencies, having been composer in residence with Sinfonia21 from 1996 to 2001, composer in association with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra from 2000 to 2005, in 2002 he became artistic director of the Philharmonia's Music of Today series, and from 2000 to 2007 he was the Cleveland Orchestra's Daniel R. Lewis Young Composer Fellow.

The first work on the disc, Fantasias dates from 2009 and is a product of Anderson's period working with the Cleveland Orchestra and was premiered by them in 2009. This is the work's world premiere recording. Fantasias is in five movements, with the form of each movement deliberately unpredictable. Anderson's use of an older form in the title, allows him the freedom to have the music undergo sudden changes of timbre, tempo or harmony.

The first movement opens with a brass fanfare, and then develops into a lively and rhythmic movement for brass only, full of vitality and rather jazzy rhythms. Anderson combines some complex rhythmic textures with a notable clarity of harmony. In the second movement, he uses different combinations of instruments in intersecting polyphonic passages, deliberately relishing the instability that this brings. The movement has the same wonderful rhythmic vitality as the first movement. The third movement combines slow moving strings with Stravinskian spiky wind. The texture is not completely static, but there is a great feeling of continuity and continuum. His orchestration includes the use of col legno and other devices. At the end of the movement, all hell seems to break loose. The short fourth movement is a very perky one, with different groups of instruments intersecting and crashing into each other. Very rhythmic, the movement manages to compress intense vitality into its two minute duration. The busy textures of the final movement evoke Messiaen, there are dazzling quick changes of texture combined with some brilliant playing. This is the longest movement and it is the only one which is without any discontinuity in the flow, Anderson combines material from the previous movements into a dazzling whole. Fantasias is a beautifully crafted piece which is a wonderful showpiece for the orchestra. Anderson's writing is accessible, yet you never feel that he is writing down to his audience, and the complexities of his writing have a wonderful logic to them.

The Crazed Moon is a long, single movement work lasting nearly 14 minutes. It was written in 1997 as a commission from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and first performed by them at the 1997 Cheltenham Festival, conducted by Taadaki Otaka. On this disc the London Philharmonic Orchestra performs it conducted by Vladimir Jurowski. The work's title comes from a poem by W.B.Yeats which describes a frightening vision of the moon, which Anderson combines with the lunar eclipse of 1996. In his programme note, Anderson explains the work's funereal tone as referring to the sudden death of friend and fellow composer Graeme Smith, and the work is dedicated to his memory.

The work opens with distant fanfares on Graeme Smith's initials, G and S (E flat in German notation), these form rather distinctive brass clusters. The work grows from quiet strings and rumblings, the full texture only gradually unfolding and with Anderson keeping the work feeling rather unsettling. A moment of pause with transparent textures and oboe solos, develops into dense string textures with wind chords. There is a sense of slow development and a long breathed feeling to the work, with the wind writing again evoking Messiaen. The climax, which perhaps evokes the eclipse itself, is followed by the repeat of the distant fanfares of the opening. Again Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra give a dazzling performance, bringing out the sophistication and subtlety of Anderson's writing.

The final work on the disc is The Discovery of Heaven, commissioned jointly by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and premiered by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Ryan Wigglesworth in March 2012; the performance recorded on this disc. Product of Anderson's residency with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the work was specifically designed for the orchestra's players. The twin inspirations for the work are the novel by the Dutch writer Harry Mulisch (1927 - 2010) The Discovery of Heaven and the ancient Japanese court music, gagaku, notably a piece called Etenraku (Music Coming from Heaven). Part one, An Echo from Heaven starts with flurries from wind instruments, moving towards orchestral climax, with wind lines emerging from the orchestral texture. This rhapsodic sense develops into the whole orchestra, with a feeling of gradual slow build. More structured moments lead to a episode with just a solo flute. Finally the orchestral textures thin towards the end, giving the music a wide open feel with lovely translucent, transparency punctuated by bursts of sound.

In his programme note for the second movement In the Street, Anderson talks of the music evoking the atmosphere in a street in a busy modern metropolis. At first the music is rather spare, coming in short bursts of highly rhythmic material. Anderson's orchestrations create some interesting textures, with complex multiple layers of rhythmic motifs and a rather jazzy element. There is a feeling of constant movement, and a slow build towards the final movement, Hymns. There are two contrasting elements to the opening of the final movement, long slow music on brass and strings evoking wide open spaces, with chattering interruptions on wind and percussion. Gradually the musical material gets more structured, more rhythmic with some quite dazzling writing for the brass. Moments of quiet alternate with some highly Rite of Spring-like moments. In all, this is a bravura showcase for orchestra, superbly rendered by Wigglesworth and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

It seems to be Julian Anderson's time. He has recently started a residency at the Wigmore Hall, and his opera Thebans will be premiered by the ENO in May 2014. This disc of orchestral works provides a superb over-view of his fascinating talent, as well as being a testament to the London Philharmonic Orchestra's support for their resident composer. This is intelligent music, which both seduces by its sound and by the rationality of its construction. Highly recommendable indeed.

Julian Anderson (born 1967) - Fantasias (2009) [24.28]
Julian Anderson (born 1967) - The Crazed Moon (1997) [13.54]
Julian Anderson (born 1967) - The Discovery of Heaven (2012) [20.50]
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Vladimir Jurowski (conductor)
Ryan Wigglesworth (conductor)
Recorded live 19 March 2011, 3 December 2011, 24 March 2012 at the Royal Festival Hall, London
LPO 0074 1CD [59.12]

The Discovery of Heaven - orchestral works by Julian Anderson; London Philharmonic Orchestra, Ryan Wigglesworth, Vladimir Jurowski
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 26 2013
Rating: 4.0

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