Cundy presents six relatively recent compositions for bass clarinet, sometimes overdubbed, sometimes with taped accompaniment. There are two works by Cornelius Cardew, "Solo with Accompaniment" and "Mountains", as well as one each from Ton de Leeuw (also titled "Mountains"), Thanos Chrysakis ("Fryktoria") and John Cage ("Five").
"Solo with Accompaniment" (1964) has been recorded by others in various guises and seems to be capable of myriad different expressions, involving matrices which contain elements subject to certain rules of association and much more. It's also humorously perverse in that the "solo" section is relatively simple, the "accompaniment" complex, inverting the standard relationship. Here, the drawn-out bass clarinet lines waft around skittering though sporadic elements, percussive, whistling, quavering and otherwise. There's a sense of sadness in there, maybe a constrictedness; it's oddly moving. Both "Mountains" compositions were written for the Dutch bass clarinetist Harry Sparnaay, each also dated 1977. de Leeuw's is for bass clarinet and tape, the latter created by the composer. The sections are sometimes heard separately, engaged in a kind of playful, distanced dance with each other, here and there joining hands for some delicate and generally joyful interplay. Over the course of its 18+ minutes, it becomes progressively more tonal, ending in an area not all that far from, perhaps, a Jon Hassell piece from around the same period, though at once freer and more rigorous. Altogether very enjoyable.
Cardew's "Mountains" has, to the best of my knowledge, only been previously recorded once, by Ian Mitchell on his release with Christopher Hobbs, "the edge of the world" (Black Box, 1995). It certainly occupies a unique place in Cardew's oeuvre, written during a time when he was still preoccupied with working in an area largely given over to socialist workers' songs (the score does, indeed, include a quotation from Mao). However, the piece is structured on variations of Bach's "Partita No. 6" for solo keyboard and contains in its four sections transformations and inversions of same (sounding almost Braxtonian), a graphic section (having previously scorned his immense amount of work in that area), an improvisatory sequence and an up-and-down portion written to clearly evoke, within the staves, visual impressions of mountains. Cundy's performance traverses all of these "obstacles" with ease and good nature, managing to weld them seamlessly and with imagination, presenting a lively, vigorous image, brisk and bracing as a mountain ridge.
Chrysakis' "Fryktoria" (2019) and Cage's "Five" are both recorded with five bass clarinets. The former is a thoughtful sequence of explorations using various aspects of the instrument, moving slowly and with consideration for color and a subtle, only slightly perceptible forward motion. The Cage work is five minutes of unhurried, floating beauty, the five long-held tones weaving and gently glancing off one another like ribbons in a soft breeze. For all the admirable intricacy and flair of the preceding compositions, this might be my favorite from a very strong selection.
Comments and Feedback: