Phonométrie - Satie, Svoboda / Krüger, Hussong
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SATIE (arr. Svoboda) Sports et divertissements: La chasse. Ludions. Avant-dernières pensées. 3 poèmes d’amour. Gnossienne No. 1. SVOBODA 20 French Songs. Study No. 1, “ Speed.” 5 Canon Studies • Anne-May Krüger (voc, barrel org, toy pn, melodica); Stefan Hussong (acc, toy pn, melodica); Mike Svoboda (tbn, melodica) • WERGO 6806 (72:16)
Composer/trombonist Mike Svoboda was born in 1960 on Guam. Raised in Chicago, his musical path subsequently took him to Germany where, from 1984 to 1995, he worked with Karl-Heinz Stockhausen, Martin Smolka, Helmuth Lachenmann, and Wolfgang Rhim, among others. His trombone virtuosity led to numerous engagements with renowned orchestras. He also bestrides the world of jazz, but that influence won’t be found here except on a most metaphorical of levels.
Here he presents Erik Satie as a most kindred spirit to his own. As one can discern from the headnote, all of the Satie on this release has been arranged by Svoboda for a nontraditional group of instruments, from time to time informed and united by the oracular sound of his trombone. The melodica, incidentally, is a quasi-serious contraption invented by the German accordion firm Hohner in either the 1950s or 1960s—a small toy-like wind instrument with a keyboard. Svoboda’s use of the two toy pianos with their not-quite-in-tune tuning conjures up the spirit of John Cage, which hovers benignly over this whole enterprise.
The basic ground plan for most of this offering was to take Satie’s Sports et divertissements , separate each of its melodies in sequence, rescore them from the piano original, and then to intersperse each with one of Svoboda’s 20 French Songs, each of which provides a commentary and an insightful deepening of the Satie jumping-off point.
Satie was an outsider. His contemporaries, Debussy and Ravel, managed to break into the “proper” concert world. When Diaghilev finally presented him with the commissions for Parade and Relâche , which he fulfilled, it was too late. Satie was then an embittered man who shortly died of liver cancer, no doubt aggravated by his alcoholism. Despite Svoboda’s invoking in the liner notes the fact that Satie didn’t think himself a composer but a mere phonométrie , I think that Satie was selling himself short, as was his ironic wont. In fact, his minimalistic piano pieces inspired Les Six , among others, and actually altered the course of French music in the remainder of the 20th century and beyond. In those same liner notes, Svoboda makes his choice of low-tech media clear. In this computer-driven age, a composer has tools that would have boggled the mind of J. S. Bach. I’m sure that Bach would have loved and embraced them, as he had the newest of new-fangled organs. Svoboda claims that his beloved trombone is among the lowest-tech instruments still in use. He has a valid point—the trombone’s basic technology and construction have largely been unchanged since medieval times. Add to this his use of toy and otherwise largely maligned instruments in his sound scheme, and we of the Classical bent are in for something special. So here we have a paradox, a lot of low-tech instruments realizing a lot of music that is potentially high-tech.
German-trained soprano Anna-May Krüger is fully up to the task. She has to steer a course somewhere between a popular chanteuse and a contemporary (Schoenberg-like Sprechstimme artist), and does so with impeccable French diction and affect. Svoboda’s use of slightly out-of-tune toy instruments also bears fruit. In many instances, unisons are not quite intonationally accurate. Rather than being a minus, this proves to be a plus. The beats thus set up become, in and of themselves, musically compelling—yet another case where sheer sonority becomes a vital element of the music.
In the end, I see this release as a manifesto on behalf of all disenfranchised composers of serious music everywhere. Along the way, it provides over 70 minutes of revealing and insightful music-making, captured in state-of-the-art sound.
FANFARE: William Zagorski
Catalog Number: WER68062
Composer: Erik Satie, Michael Svoboda
Performer: Anne-May Kruger, Michael Svoboda, Stefan Hussong