26 November 2016

Raimo Kangro - Clicking Symphony

As it has been a while since I did a little look at a singular piece and considering the world around us currently I couldn't think of anything better than to look at Raimo Kangro. As the world around us is becoming an incredibly scary place what with Herr Trump and Britain playing Russian Roulette we all kind of need something just to give us a brief moment of respite. 

Raimo Kangro, born in 1949, is one of the most significant voices of the Estonian neo-classical trends which had manifested in country during the Soviet years. Kangro's music is fascinating to observe because of its wit and charm. A student of Eino Tamberg and Jaan Raats, Kangro's music seems to thrive on an overt simplicity and stability of harmonic language which in turn is used as a platform for everything else to spring from it. Within Kangro's large body of works are a huge collection of concerti, symphonies, and piano works. I have previously discussed one of his concerti for two pianos which not only exploits the full potential of dialogue between the forces but also explores a full spectra of extended techniques to build quite a magnificent work. 

The neo-classical elements within Raimo Kangro's work stuck with him throughout his working life. Another curious element of his works are his hommages. He produced a curious cycle of twelve portraits all of which celebrate composers he admires from Mozart and Vivaldi to Reich and Schubert. This connection to history never makes his music feel conservative or backwards, and dare I say; may even put him in a better light than other prominent neo-classicists like certain members of Les Six or even Stravinsky (whose neo-classical works do make we want to cry sometimes, as they never quite match the wonder of earlier works and just make Stravinsky look like a bit of a charlatan).

Anyways back to the Clicking Symphony (Ploksuv sumfoonia) (1993). The four movement symphony, written for an army of mandolins (the composer does specify mandolin orchestra, but I do feel a large gather of mandolins can only really be described as an army or armada) has all the 'typical' architecture of a symphony, with a lively vivo for the first movement, a contrasting con moto and sostenuto for the middle movements, and a brief vivo to conclude. The four movement are more akin to Haydn in character, as they only last about approximately four minutes each, and the finale is a blink of just a minute, so there is no Wagnerian or Mahlerian self indulgence in this symphony.

The first movement starts with a brisk articulated driving momentum. The first subject is energetic and the discourse between all the forces extremely conversational. The pulsing accompaniment and strong force in the lower elements of the orchestra give the music its unique twang (pardon the pun). What is fascinating to observe in the symphony is the fact this symphony functions identically to say a symphony written purely for string orchestra, there is no hint at trying to adapt the musical dynamic to the forces. The other fascinating element is due to the brevity of the first movement you can just sit make and marvel at the wondrous craft of the architecture.

The second movement, has an air of scherzo about it, it is playful and spritely. It is a smidgen steadier but this doesn't deaden the jollity of the work. The use of pulsing cycles and irregular rhythms makes the work a joy to listen to, and is like some of the more overtly playful works of Bartok.

The third movement is rather serene and stands as the largest movement of the symphony. The rolling harmonies and sustained sound of a double bass give the perfect backdrop to a moving melody. The melody steadily grows and the anticipation and excitement grows with it. The beauty and serenity of the melody never feels sentimental as the inner dialogue is still bustling with energy and there is still a spring in the step of the orchestra throughout. It is hard to say which movement is my favourite, but it is definitely a contest between this and the opening.

The finale is brief but fun. Maybe I love the whole symphony because it never takes too long and just says what it needs to. The drive in finale is rather extremely, especially after the calm of the third movement. In the finale we see brief snippets of the opening movement, almost alluding to an overarching sonata form throughout the four movements. A neo-classicists equivalent of Inception, a sonata form within a sonata form.

The whole symphony is just a treat, and I think the perfect tonic to the recent dark days we have been witnessing. The whole symphony has a brief tang of Vivaldi within it, but it is hard to say if it is because of the musicality of the work, or the fact there are mandolins. The whole symphony is on Spotify and is accompanied by a surreal but wonderful mix of works written for mandolin orchestra, definitely worth a listen. Anyways until next time! 

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