23 January 2016

Arvydas Malcys: Concerto for Clarinet and Chamber Orchestra

After two of some wonderful Estonians, I think its time to return to a Lithuanian gem I have developed quite a fondness of since uncovering his music. Arvydas Malcys (1957*) is a rather curious composer as he doesn't fall into any camps of composers that can be found here in Lithuania or throughout Europe. His willingness to tackle classic forms and structures like concerto is intriguing as it is truly adhering to the nature of a concerto but never feeling conservative. Also musically there is a strong affinity to composers like Bartok or Honnegger who used modernist 'techniques' as an extension of what has come before and not a rejection of it.

A student of Vytautas Laurusas, Arvydas Malcys studied composition alongside his studies of the cello (under Domas Svirskis). His music has won multiple awards and is full of a huge amount of colour and character, it is a real shame British orchestras haven't heard of him. I imagine Malcsys's work would be extremely well received by the paying public.

The concerto for clarinet and chamber orchestra was written in 2007 and dedicated to the late Algirdas Doveika who was the principal clarinettist of the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra. The concerto was written for Roger Arve Vigulf, a Norwegian clarinettist Arvydas had worked for around three years previous to this concerto. The work is in three movements which a calm declamatory cadenza, before flying off into a pulsating driving sphere. The first movement is short, but never loses its energy, constantly pushing the piece along with a great vibrancy. The simple nature of the first movement is made more elegant by the introduction and expansion of the material throughout the chamber orchestra. The energy is a stark contrast the to beautiful melodic material in the soloist, who floats seamlessly above the ensemble.But as the piece progresses the energy in the orchestra turns to staggering tremolandi and the clarinet flies over the chaos.

The second movement is drastically different and potently beautiful. Much like in the solo clarinet movement of Messiaen's Quatour pour la fin de temps, the movement starts with a sparse clarinet melody leaping beautifully over wide intervals and disappearing into nothingness. The entrance of the strings reiterate the opening of the first movement and give the middle movement a larger depth and broader colouring. The reiterating Es from the clarinet morph into powerful multiphonics stretched against the dense clusters in the strings, before flying off into an allegro passage. The section is a bit more frantic with the aleatoric elements blurring any sensation of pulse and rhythmic direction. Suddenly the frantic energy busts into an almost comical bouncing triplet section which canonically repeats gestures from the clarinet, before it fades away into a peaceful mournful calm.

The final movement is full of cheeky gestures and energy. A fantastical scherzo which really lets the soloist let loose and show off their prowess. The clumsy pulsations from the strings add a sense of comedy in the opening bars of the movement. Then this clumsy cheeky side disappears with a gesturing of tiny fragments flying around the group. The tiny gesture grows and expands and gives the sensation of clockwork as everything ticks along growing and growing. This ticking becomes a bit more maniacal before dissipating into a whole new section with screaming glissandi from the soloist. This leads onto an area with lots of drive, being pushed by flying scales which disappearing and morph into flickering gestures which fade and eventually disappear with the final Gershwin-esque gliss.

The work can be heard here on spotify. It is a fun work and a great show piece for clarinettists the world over. I'd be curious to see how other soloists would shape this kind of piece, as there is so much room for a soloist to add their own personal input.

Anyways until next week, where I might either discuss Bacevicius or Lithuanian music on the whole, looking at where it is in comparison to a generation ago. Until then!

16 January 2016

Erkki-Sven Tuur: String Quartet

I had been tossing and turning thinking about what piece to show this week, and I came to the decision that actually its about time I discuss this figure. Erkki-Sven Tuur (1959*) is quite the Estonian giant and is important to Estonia for two major reasons; his musical eclecticism and sheer vibrancy. He first started his musical career in the progressive rock band Spe heavily influenced by Frank Zappa, and Emerson Lake and Palmer. Shortly after this period he dove into 'classical' composition. He studied with Jaan Raats and Lepo Sumera and studied electronics in Karlruhe, Germany.

His music has a great vibrancy and energy and is never afraid to include various musical devices or strategies into pieces like bringing serialist language in combination with minimalistic repetitions and cycles. Even though the string quartet (1985) is not the strongest piece by Erkki-Sven Tuur, I felt compelled to talk about this one first, as it was the first piece of his I found. The colour and clarity of the two movement work really struck me.

The two movements are very direct episodic movements, with the first being about half the length of the second movement. The first movement closely resembles a rondo or ritornello form loosely following this shape:
A - B - C - B1 - C1 - A

A - is a monophonic texture with the quartet musically playing in unison, the harmony is vaguely tonal, but contradicts itself as it is never clearly Bb major or Eb major for example.

B - is a more animated episode with driving arpeggios in the violins while the viola and cello wait before interacting with it.

C - is a still moment, with the cello playing a harmonic glissando to colour the circling notes in the other three instruments.

The directness is treated remarkably as  it never feels predictable.

The second movement is far more extensive in its evolution, but follows a similar basic shape to the first movement. It vaguely references the same kind of shape, but feels more elegant in its construction. The second movement is as follows:
A - B - A1 - B1 - C - B2 - A2 - Reiteration of opening material of 1st movement.

A - is growing tremolandi 

B - is a burst of circling notes, combined with an arpeggiated gesture

C - is a sustained chord of Db, F,G,Ab.

It is a wonderful and approachable work, which made me fall in love with the composer's work. In larger scale works like the symphonies or concerti, the pieces are far more profound and elegant; this is by no means a condescending message for his chamber works like this quartet. It is hard not to love his work. You can hear the string quartet here  and you can find out more about Erkki-Sven Tuur here; alternatively you can find him on twitter.

See you next time, when I am likely to come back to wittering about lovely Lithuanians. 

10 January 2016

Raimo Kangro: Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra No. 2

Firstly, and rather belatedly, Happy New Year. As the blog is still very young, it would have seemed pretentious to do a rounding off 2015 blog post; especially when I hadn't even been writing this blog for the whole year. This past week has been rather nonstop with my involvement in the BFE/RMA Student Conference 2016, in Bangor north Wales. It was fun to be involved for two reasons, firstly it was great to introduce everyone present to works by Kutavicius, Juzeliunas, and Montvila. Secondly, it was particularly fun to be extra sci-fi by being sat in my comfy flat in Vilnius, talking 1000 miles away in Bangor through the magical power of Skype.

Anyways, it is back into the Baltic and into the gems. As it is wonderfully chilling and snowy here in Vilnius, we need something upbeat and positive. I could think of no better person than the wonderfully witty and charming Raimo Kangro (1949-2001). Raimo is a figure I have had a wonderful soft spot for, ever since I heard the first note of his music. Raimo has a wonderful charm and wit that can only be equaled by composers like Haydn or Vivaldi. A student of Jaan Raats and Eino Tamberg, Raimo Kangro became closely linked to the 'neo-classical' scene in Estonia. The 'neo-classical' label does Raimo Kangro a disservice, mostly giving the impression that he was a conservative composer. His music is wonderfully energetic, bouncy, and just a joy to listen to.

What really makes Raimo Kangro stand out is his connection to sonatas, symphonies, and concerti. Works like his Clicking Symphony or Sonata for Two Pianos are times when he is at his strongest. So this brings me to his Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra. This wonderful four movement work. The first movement Declamazione starts with a rich piano chord, resonating freely as strings slowly enter; then a burst of life comes into the orchestra. After a brief interlude by the pianos, the orchestra enter again, circling on their motifs, the atmosphere is calm, rich, and resonant. The colour and power in the orchestra builds into really beautiful passages.

The second movement Variazione starts a fantastical musical interaction between the two pianos, focused on the more percussive effects like harmonics and plucking strings. As can be guessed from the title, the movement is a theme and variations of sorts, with opening gestures returning to the for. A highly rhythmic movement and is just a pure delight to listen to.

The third movement Impressione is a more austere movement, with crystal clear piano chorale. The entry of the cellos brings in a rich melody, and the circling harmonic material adds real beauty, but also a really mournful tone to the movement. The entry of the pedal adds so much angst to the piece that you are just gripped for the entirety of the movement. 

The final movement Allegro is a real tour de force, a speedy that just keeps flying. The pianists are let off the reins and are both able to really show off their own prowess. The circling harmonic configuration, gives the movement real stability allowing the soloists and orchestra the space to bring out the energy; not that it is much of a challenge, with the irregular time signatures and moto perpetuo-feel of the whole movement.

The work is wonderfully direct, so I do not want to take up more of your time, by giving strong rhetoric to prove you should enjoy this. Just listen to the piece here on spotify. The two other works: Concerto for Two and Gaudeo are both wonderful gems I aim to touch on in the future. Until next week.