Friday 5 June 2020

A sense of shimmering silence: music by the Catalan composer Josep Maria Guix on Images of broken light from Neu records

Josep Maria Guix Images of Broken Light; London Sinfonietta, Abel Tomas, Arnau Tomas, Joep Colom
Josep Maria Guix Images of Broken Light; London Sinfonietta, Abel Tomas, Arnau Tomas, Josep Colom; Neu

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 November 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Welcome to the subtle and concentrated world of Catalan composer Josep Maria Guix with seven recent works for ensemble, and for chamber forces, all inspired by Japanese haikus

Start playing this disc and it hardly seems to start at all; composer Josep Maria Guix's music contains subtle responses to silence and sense of the pared down essentials. This new disc Images of Broken Light on Neu Records features seven recent works by Guix performed by the London Sinfonietta, conducted by Geoffrey Patterson, violinist Abel Tomas and cellist Arnau Tomas (both founding members of the Cuarteto Casals) and pianist Josep Colom

Catalan composer Josep Maria Guix studied in Barcelona and in Paris at IRCAM, receiving lessons and advice from Benet Casablancas, David Padrós, Joan Guinjoan, José Manuel López and Jonathan Harvey. Guix's music inhabits a particular sound world which might be described as sculpting with sound, silence and delicate textures play a strong part in his music; commentators have described the delicacy and intimacy of his music as akin to his compatriot Federico Mompou (1893-1987). All the works on this disc (written during the last 12 years), rely on minimal gestures and subtle contrasts in timbre.

The disc starts with Vent de capvespre for ensemble, the earliest piece on the disc. In four movements, each is inspired by a Japanese haiku by Yosa Buson (1716-1784), Takahama Kyoshi, (1874-1959) and Hattori Ransetsu (1654-1707), each evocative of landscape. The work was commissioned by the Fundació Caixa Catalunya, and won the Salvatore Martirano Memorial Composition Award in 2010.

The music has the same sense of concentration and spareness which you associate with a haiku, each gesture counting for a great deal. It starts out of from nothing, and remains evanescent and fragile, with each gesture telling. Though written for ensemble, this is not large scale music and Guix uses his range of instruments to give himself a wider palette of colours. This is music where each gesture tells, and where silence is important. And at the end, it lapses into silence again.

Next comes a work for violin, cello and piano, Slowly ... in a mist, which takes a text by Issa Kobayashi (1763=1828) as a starting point, 'the lake is slowly lost in mist... evening falls', words which capture a sense of change of reality and a freezing of time. And each movement is linked to one of Kobayashi's haikus. Again, it starts from silence, and a series of apparently unrelated gestures. The three movements present music that is spare and atmospheric, with a remarkable degree of control over the variety of textures so that there is a constant sense of tension amidst the silence.

Seven Haikus for solo cello continues the concentrated world of the haiku, these are short pieces, where the solo cellist explores a remarkable variety of timbres and textures, the musical gestures emerging out of a silence which almost become part of the character. Only very occasionally, such as at the opening of the fifth movement, do things rise above quiet but throughout there is a sense of concentrated intensity.

By contrast Llagrimes de tardor, elegy for violin and piano, has its origins in the poetic name of a wine (translated as Autumn Tears) and this is linked in the composers mind to the expression 'Autumn Wind' which occurs in many haikus. Guix says of the work that it 'recreates in the first measures this autumnal atmosphere opening the doors to hope and honouring him'. Violin and piano act as two independent characters, interacting in a dialogue rather than one accompanying the other. Again, gesture and texture are very important as Guix seems to shape the instruments' dialogue.

Stella for solo piano was written for pianist Maria Canyigueral's project Avant-guarding Mompou. The music is based on a cantigua by Alfonso X and a song by Mompou. It is a work which balances drama with passages of remarkable delicacy,

Three Haikus  for cello and piano are based on three haikus by Bashu, Buson and Kanna, evoking a subtle world relating to coolness, freshness and Autumn breeze. Guix uses his two instruments here to create a remarkable range of colour and timbre, this is music where quietness and delicacy does not preclude drama.

Finally, Jardin Seco (Dry Garden) for ensemble, which takes as its inspiration a painting by Fernando Zóbel in the Spanish Abstract Art Museum of Cuenca, but also has haikus as inspiration too. In three movements which play continuously, the music refers to the elements water and wind, using subtle shadings of dynamics and timbre, and the composer's score calls for a distinct placing of the instrumentalists. Whilst the piece returns to using an ensemble, the music is anything but large-scale in conception with a series of interlocking, intense gestures. Not all is silence, and sometimes the music erupts, briefly, but each time it returns to that shimmering sense of intense silence.

Josep Maria Guix's sound world is one which is quiet and intense, where silence and gesture play a large part, and where we can hear Guix almost sculpting the sound. On this disc, he gets exemplary performances from his performers and the disc forms a superb introduction to his art.

Images of Broken Light
Josep Maria Guix (born 1967) - Vent de capvespre for ensemble (2007)
Josep Maria Guix - Slowly ... in a mist for violin, cello, and piano (2012)
Josep Maria Guix - Seven Haikus for solo cello (2016)
Josep Maria Guix - Llagrimes de tardor, elegy for violin and piano (2018)
Josep Maria Guix - Stella for solo piano (2018)
Josep Maria Guix - Three Haikus for cello and piano (2009)
Josep Maria Guix - Jardin Seco for ensemble (2014)
London Sinfonietta / Geoffrey Patterson
Abel Tomas (violin)
Arnau Tomas (cello)
Josep Colon (piano)
Recorded at Watford Colosseum, February 2018, and Sala Mozart, Auditorio de Zaragoza, July 2019
Neu Records NEU009

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