KETIL HVOSLEF (b.1939): Chamber Works, Vol. 7 - String Quartet No. 3, Sextet for Flute and Percussion, Trio for Soprano, Alto and Piano.
Catalogue Number: 08W051
Label: LAWO Classics
Description: Our prefaces to the two previous volumes are worth repeating: "It's always fun when a new volume in this exceedingly valuable and varied series appears; what kind of quirky, off-kilter shenanigans will we get this time?" And: The pieces are all to a greater or lesser extent downright strange, but so appealing! Whatever else is going on, Hvoslef knows how to draw you in with delightful tonal harmony, and his eccentric humour is irresistible." That pretty much sums it up, really - except that even though you know that the odds are that this is what you’re going to get, you never have the slightest idea what you’re going to get, so capricious and unpredictable is Hvoslef's muse. He has his formulæ, to be sure - the jittery little fragments and motifs, the unusual instrumental combinations, the relentless ticking ostinati, the humour that can turn from playful to warped to sinister and back the moment your back is turned - but he never, even slightly, repeats himself. The Trio, for two voices and piano, uses the singers as instruments, singing little syllables and isolated vowels - "ta", "pa", "ma", etc. The piece is a scherzo in mood, the voices frolicking together in playful patterns, while the piano refuses to join in the fun to begin with, grudgingly providing a series of grumpy ostinato accompaniments. It allows itself to be seduced by the siren calls of along, lyrical duet, however, and thereafter increasingly becomes a co-conspirator with its airborne companions. Unexpectedly, this eventually leads to an energetic, orgiastic, ostinato-driven climax, before the three friends serenade one another and end the piece in high spirits. The quartet is typical of Hvoslef in providing no clue where its dramatic narrative will take it until you get there. It begins with austere sustained notes, fortissimo, and harsh interjections which seem to disturb some minuscule scurrying figures which scatter in all directions. This material continues to alternate for some time, suggesting the exploration of an unfamiliar, perhaps hostile, perhaps just dreary and deserted environment. Bursts of mechanistic activity occur. Several mechanisms, delicate or brutal, are examined. Later, a jittery little rhythmic dance is joined, with fragments passed back and forth like the syllabic gestures in the trio from a quarter century earlier. Finally we arrive at the destination of this unsettling journey through a sinister urban landscape, which sounds like a dream-distorted nightclub in which blaring music is playing (shades of the composer’s early career in rock bands?), and the piece ends with the sounds of circling emergency sirens. The Sextet takes some of its impetus from the South American origins of the flautist for whom it was written, and much of the work has a rhythmic, dancing quality, with some sections having a distinctly Latin feel. The apparent imbalance between flute and five percussionists is deftly solved by the composer’s use of the huge coloristic possibilities of the percussion ensemble to provide a series of vibrant scenic backdrops for the flute to perform against, in a variety of sultry, sensuous or lively moods. Only at the end is there confrontation, when the percussion overwhelms the flute with rhythmic battering, rendering it voiceless and reduced to tapping on its keys. Elsewhere the percussion flirts with the flute, imitates it, teases it, only flexing its muscles when it falls silent. Even when tribal drumming is suggested, it is at a distance, in the mysterious depths of the Amazon, with the principal player in the foreground. Various instrumental and vocal performers.