Listen to our Cry - Works by Yusupov, Fischer, Kancheli, Hovhaness & Lombardi
Ars Produktion ARS 38 318
Benjamin Yusupov: Concerto for Trumpet, Piano and Strings "Listen to our Cry"
Ivan Fischer: Eine Deutsch-Jiddishsche Kantate "Die Stimmen der Geister"
Giya Kancheli: Night Prayers
Alan Hovhaness: Aria "Haroutioun"
Luca Lombardi: Predah in Memoriam Claudio Abbado
Reinhold Friedrich (trumpet)
Dorothee Mields (soprano)
Eriko Takezawa (piano)
Georgisches Kammerorchester Ingolstadt
Ruben Gazarian (conductor)
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Review by Adrian Quanjer - February 24, 2021
This is a remarkable recording in almost every sense. And each of its building blocks demands our sincerest attention. Subtitled “… Accept our cries, and hear our screams, oh Knower of mysteries …” listeners are forewarned that this release, with four out of five World Premiere Recordings, is not about musical discoveries, but rather compiled to underscore feelings of defiance and hope. Five nomad composers from different parts of the world and yet so very much linked to each other’s fate: A common CRY, set alight by “cultural nostalgia”. The listener is implicitly invited to actively participate in this blend “between the theological and material worlds”, conveyed by interpreters performing at the sharp end of their musicianship. A recording of all-embracing nature.
Amid a global pandemic of uncertain outcome, the human brain can easily become prey to mysticism, translating unusual sound into whatever is feared. The brutal cry of a shofar horn (the one on the front cover) that makes you shiver, hovering over a hollow-sounding piano and the whining tones of stringed instruments makes one wonder what is happening, where it goes, and how it will end. More questions than answers. The mood becomes oppressively nervous. Moments of eerie solitude. A chase….. And then, silence returns.
Such was - in the light of today's dire circumstances - my first impression of Benjamin Yusupov’s Concerto for Trumpet, Piano and String Orchestra ‘Listen to our Cry’. Never having heard it before, it sounded to me as though the horrors of Covid-19 had been translated into music. Utterly disturbing, yet hair-raising outstanding.
The liner notes (a must-read) tell us that Yusupov, one of the five ‘nomad’ composers gathered on this unique ARS release, had something quite different in mind. An attempt to unite in three movements the three monotheistic religions: Jewish, Muslim, and Christian. But it is clear to me that things do not altogether go without friction. It is - according to the liner notes - for the listener to decide to what extent dissonance in the final movement means “incompatibility of the religions or acceptance of their differences”. Alas, history proves time and again that such conciliation is beyond human grasp. And I think that the composer must have been consciously or unconsciously aware of it.
The musicians deliver an incredible job. In the first, Jewish movement, Reinhold Friedrich blows the shofar with trenchant precision, shifting to trumpet and flugelhorn for the remainder. One may wonder how many trumpeters have the virtuosity, the competence, and … the guts to do it. I know of one; the one who’s playing here. Ruben Gazarian, conducting his Georgian ‘immigrant’ strings and Friedrich’s chamber partner and co-soloist at the concert grand, Eriko Takezewa, support the ‘cries’ with dramatic conviction.
In the HRAudio community, Ivan Fischer, the ‘nomad’ from Hungary, is best known, and famously so, as a conductor of his Budapest Festival Orchestra. He composed several pieces of intimate character, of which his ‘Eine Deutsch-Jiddische Kantate’ is performed most frequently. The German soprano, Dorothee Mields, joins in with her beautiful tone coloured voice. Specialized in the world of baroque, she is eminently suited in binding together the different musical and linguistical strands in the five short movements of this suite. In a duet with Friedrich she sets down an emotionally filled ‘Wiegenlied’ (Lullaby).
The following two arias, German and Jiddisch, sound more conflictual than they were probably meant to. The march-like rhythms in the Jewish aria might be reminiscent of pre-second world war militarism, but the composer says: “Die Kantate ist musikalisch eine Art Montage, die Barockähnliche Klänge mit jüdisch wirkenden Intervallen verbindet, nicht kontrastierend, eher harmonisierend“ (in musical terms, the cantata is a kind of assembly, linking baroque-like sounds with Jewish-like intervals, harmonizing rather than confrontational), and we ought to take his word for it. A ‘cry’ for the preservation of Yiddish culture in Central Europe?
In this recorded version, Kancheli’s ‘Night Prayers’, written for clarinet and string quartet, are played in Reinhold Friedrich’s arrangement for trumpet and string orchestra. It is the fourth part of his ‘Life without Christmas’. Those familiar with Kancheli’s style and electronic experiments will not be surprised to listen to a slow, subdued, and introverted piece of work, with nonetheless sudden FFF eruptions like the outcry about a lost Georgian past (?), where Friedrich’s piercing high notes go straight to the heart, competing with the electronic sounds of the accompanying tape with a fragment of his opera ‘Music for the Living’. The orchestra is all along wonderfully in tune with the character of the prayer.
In the strict sense, Alan Hovhaness wasn’t a ‘nomad’ composer. It was his dad moving from Armenia to the United States. His musical palette of style and taste is large and critical of his own production. During his 'Armenian period’ (1943-51) and his involvement with Armenian church music, he wrote the short piece ‘Haroutioun’, possibly inspired by Mahler’s second ‘Resurrection Symphony'. This is a nostalgic cry in all its moving glory, melodious with a hint of Armenia, and grippingly beautiful, thanks to Friedrich’s warmly woven and rounded tone.
After he emigrated to Israel, the Italian ‘nomad’ composer, Luca Lombardi, wrote this ‘Farewell’ for solo trumpet in memory of the late Claudio Abbado. Reinhold Friedrich, who was Abbado's principal trumpet in the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, has chosen this short piece to appropriately conclude this monumental release.
As said above, every participant in this production must have been selected with the greatest care to make this release an event one doesn’t come across very often. This is not Reinhold Friedrich’s first album. The previous ones were mostly about what I called - perhaps a shade too discourteously - “trumpeter’s delight”. In this one, Friedrich gets to the soul of the matter.
As for the accompaniment I’m in trouble. I have lauded Ruben Gazarian and Georgisches Kammerorkester in several previous ARS releases, giving 5 stars each, like this one: Arensky, Schreker, Hindemith & Mendelssohn: Works for String Orchestra - Gazarian#. I have now run out of superlative laurels. What they have done here is way beyond belief. Seldom have I heard a (string) orchestra playing so transcendentally luminous, creating sounds that can hardly exist, like, for instance, in Benjamin Yusupov’s ‘Listen to our Cry’, and yet, it is there. Witchcraft? Better still, technical and emotional mastery. Each member is a soloist in their own right and all of them are rightly listed in the booklet.
But in all honesty, I must add that the engineering, the final building block, has contributed equally masterfully to create a soundscape that envelopes the listener in surround allowing spiritual participation to the fullest extent.
In conclusion: This is obviously not a run-of-the-mill ‘easy stuff' album, and certainly not the kind of music one would select for listening to while working or reading a book. It is all-consuming. You either participate or you don’t. I suggest you do. Especially now.
Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France
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