Wednesday 29 September 2021

Messe (You are where you need to be)

Calum Builder Messe (You are where you need to be) ILK Music

Calum Builder Messe (You are where you need to be) ILK Music

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 28 September 2021 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
A work which deconstructs the Latin mass to explore the composers own journey, deconstructing and reconstructing his relationship to faith

Messe (You are where you need to be) is a new release from composer Calum Builder on the Danish label ILK Music. Written for seven voices, seven saxophones and seven double basses, the work is recorded by a group of young musicians, including the composer himself on alto saxophone.

In form, the work is structured like a classic Latin mass, except that not every movement has words. Builder has created a piece which he describes as being a deconstruction of the mass and which explores his own complex relationship with his faith. Builder trained for two years to become a minister, but then in his 20s went through a crisis and began to deconstruct his faith. More recently he has begun to reconstruct it, so the work is not so much a picture of a particular view of our relationship with the divine, nor is it a musical work designed for use within a liturgical event. Instead it is something of an exploration of Builder's own journey.

Builder comes from Sydney, Australia and moved to Denmark in 2018 where is both a composer and improvising saxophone player. In 2020 he began an Artistic Research Position (Solist) at the Rytmisk Musikkonservatorium in Copenhagen.

Calum Builder: Messe (You are where you need to be) - recording session
Calum Builder: Messe (You are where you need to be) - recording session

is structured in seven movements, Pater Noster, Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Epiclesis, and Agnus Dei. Not every movement has words, and the words are not always completely apparent, instead we are exploring Builder's own thoughts. Things begin moderately conventionally, albeit with a very contemporary twist to the writing, as Builder weaves together his three elements, voices, saxophones and basses, into a sort of modern motet. The music combines complexity with a spareness of texture, and despite the element of spirituality which Builder's art contains, his writing is a long way from the mystical minimalism of the Baltic school and there are moments of real edge and complexity here. 

The Kyrie with its intoning voices effectively deconstructs the text, and becomes rather striking as the chordal vocal element develops a real sense of unease. The repeated chords of the Kyrie lead directly into the throbbing saxophones of the Gloria, a wordless movement which gets more than a little intense. The Credo is a personal statement, each voice recites the text at their own pace supported by a driving rhythm in the basses and interrupted by cutting, dissonant saxophones. Again, the music develops and element of unease and discomfort, leading lonely soprano voices intoning the Sanctus. The music develops a fascinating multi-layered texture here as Builder adds multiple elements, but it doesn't hold and there is a sense of gradual unwinding, leading to vocal muttering over a soulful saxophone solo for Epiclesis. The Agnus Dei seems to begin in a deliberately scratchy manner, atmospheric and intense, only at the end does everyone come together for something which is affirmative. 

Builder's Messe is not an easy work, and certainly not a simple listen. His writing is often taxing for the performers and there are moments when we hear this, but then perhaps this is part of the musical journey, there are times when the relationship to faith should not seem comfortable. In many ways this seems to be almost a work of music theatre, and perhaps a staging might be interesting.

Calum Builder (born 1991) - Messe (You are where you need to be)
Saxophones - Calum Builder, Cosimo Fiaschi, Albert Cirera, Jonas Engel, Miguel Crozzoli, Nana Pi Larsen, Michael Biel
Voices - Therese Aune, Susana Nunes, Thea Wang, Lucia Szabova, Joao Neves, Kenneth Reid, Josh Herring
Basses - Jesper Nordberg, Asger Thomsen, Mark Gregersen, Piotr Dubajko, Aurelijus Uzameckis, Tomo Jacobson, Rafal Razalski
Additional conductor - Haakon Guttormsen
Conductor - Calum Builder
ILK Music ILK328LP 1CD


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