In Motu - Intercontinental Ensemble
Classical - Chamber
Martinu: Nonet No. 2
Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4
NEW MUSICAL JOURNEY WITH THE INTERCONTINENTAL ENSEMBLE
The nine-member Intercontinental Ensemble consists of four strings and five winds. Their young members come from different countries and continents: Mexico, Spain, Portugal, Czech Republic, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. In addition to playing original nonet repertoire, the musicians focus on their own arrangements of well-known classical pieces.
In 2018, they released their debut album 'Traveling Light' on the enterprising TRPTK label, featuring arrangements of Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms. The production was met with more than enthusiastic response. "I already wrote about the sublime artistic level, because that's what the Intercontinental Ensemble (....) has to offer. Of course, symphony orchestras play this music with the proverbial two fingers in their noses, but reduced to this pure form of chamber music, the cards are definitely different: every individual nuance, every accent counts, just as phrasing and dynamics require extreme precision in order to achieve what is ultimately at stake in this case: extreme artistically designed transparency." (Aart van der Wal in Opus Klassiek)
Now there is a strong follow-up with iconic nonets by Rota and and Martinu and an arrangement of Mendelssohn's Italian symphony under the motto "In Motu" (in motion). "We rehearsed vigorously during the quiet period of the Corona pandemic and wanted to bring something optimistic. Hence the choice of this cheerful repertoire. Moreover, we felt that the time was now ripe to add some contemporary nonets to the repertoire," says artistic director and violinist Ernst Spyckerelle.
The album starts with the evocative music of Rota, known primarily as a film composer. What is special is that this time he does not have to bend to a director and can go his artistic way unhindered. Martinu's nonet is a musical love letter to his native Czech Republic, which he had to leave at a young age and to which he can no longer return. Mendelssohn's famous Fourth Symphony, as is well known, forms a nostalgic account of his Italian journey.
Remarkably, 'In Motu' is the prelude to a subsequent album to be released in the fall, featuring repertoire by female artiste through the ages: with illustrious names such as Louise Farrenc and Clara Schumann and attention to the new generation: Bianca Bongers, Sarah Neutkens and Aregnaz Martirosyan. Few ensembles make such a varied and surprising musical journey as the ever-moving Intercontinental Ensemble.
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Review by Mark Werlin - November 20, 2021
TRPTK’s new SACD “In Motu” by the multinational Intercontinental Ensemble presents the first release in DSD format of nonets by Nino Rota and Bohuslav Martinů, central works in the 20th-century repertoire for string and woodwind ensembles. Following the two nonets is an arrangement by the Intercontinental Ensemble of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 (“Italian”). Such arrangements of orchestral works are often labeled “reductions”, which carries a pejorative connotation, but for the performing musicians as well as the audience, a small ensemble can shine a spotlight on the inner details of very familiar pieces.
The complement of instruments that comprise a string and wind nonet, violin, viola, cello, bass, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and French horn, was formalized in Louis Spohr’s Grand Nonetto in F major, op. 31 (1813). For composers Rota and Martinů, both of whom wrote their nonets in 1959, the nine-piece ensemble projects clarity of melodic line and bold strokes of instrumental color, and in their divergent idioms, generates movement—the unifying theme of “In Motu”. For Rota, a child prodigy who wrote 150 film scores, ten operas, five ballets and numerous orchestral and chamber concert works, that movement was back in time into the comforting musical landscape of the late Romantic period. For Martinů, an unhappy exile from his native Czechoslovakia contemplating his own mortality, that movement was forward, into an anxious future where long-existing harmonic rules and musical forms would be repudiated and abandoned.
From the opening bars of the Allegro, Rota engages the historical continuity of classical serenades, while playfully deploying modernistic dissonance and unexpected turns of phrase. Throughout the work’s five movements, melodies unfold with that same mixture of the familiar and the unanticipated; as the listener is drawn along well-worn tracks, the composer, like a skilled tour guide, points out details in the musical landscape that might otherwise have gone unobserved.
Bohuslav Martinů’s Nonet No. 2 was composed during the same era as “Le Marteau sans maître” (rev. 1957) of Pierre Boulez, and the “Varianti for solo violin, string instruments and woodwind” (1957) of Luigi Nono. Though he is writing for an ensemble of similar complement to Nono, Martinů, rejecting contemporary developments in post-War European composition, sets himself outside the ‘forward motion’ generated by the younger cohort. Listening to his Nonet today, at a time when so many composers have moved away from serialism and aleatory practices, it is possible to appreciate Martinů’s embrace of an earlier 20th-century idiom without perceiving him as a musical reactionary.
The members of Intercontinental Ensemble approach the Nonet with a well-considered interpretation that takes their performance to a level which surpasses earlier recordings of the work, including CDs by the Czech Nonet on Praga, and the Danish Chamber Players on Kontrapunkt. Cellist Simon Velthuis conveys Martinů’s sense of dislocation and loss through an emotive cantabile solo in the Andante movement; as the development flows into the woodwinds, the cello continues to drive the emotional current in a poignant declaration.
In their own arrangement of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4, the Ensemble find the lightness of the Allegro a perfect fit for their lighter forces. Tempi fall in between two recent performances for full orchestra on SACD: a bit faster than the well-reviewed Mendelssohn: Symphonies 4 & 5 - de Vriend, and a bit slower than Mendelssohn in Birmingham, Vol 1 - Gardner. As with any arrangement of a symphony scaled down for smaller forces, the invitation is to listen to the music with fresh ears. What this nine-piece band lacks in weight they make up in dexterity and unfailing grasp of the composer’s discovery of new vistas, both literal and musical. The exposure of each instrument reveals the very high attainment of the individual players as accomplished and expressive musicians, and the goal-oriented discipline to produce collectively, without the overriding control of a conductor, a thoughtful, fully realized performance.
Recording sessions for “In Motu” took place May 17-19, 2021 at Westvest90 Church in Schiedam, Netherlands. Photographs in the album booklet show the ensemble grouped in a circle around producer-engineer Brendon Heinst’s microphone array. In stereo, the soundstage is very wide, with the four string instruments placed forward and the five winds set somewhat back. (I encourage site members who have MCH systems to acquire this SACD and report their impressions of this album’s multichannel mix.) That the album could be recorded, mixed, mastered and pressed on SACD in a matter of months is a head-spinning accomplishment, particularly at a time when orchestras and soloists are just beginning to return to concert performance, and many musical arts organizations are struggling to remain in existence.
Of all of TRPTK’s recent releases, this superb SACD has perhaps the widest listener appeal, and should expand awareness of the label and its outstanding productions.
Update: TRPTK has confirmed that their SACDs can now be ordered from Presto Classical. Downloads are available from the TRPTK website and from NativeDSD.
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