Ferneyhough: Chamber Music / Roger Redgate, Exposé Ensemble

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FERNEYHOUGH Flurries. Trittico per G.S. Incipits. Coloratura. In nomine a 3. Aligebrah Roger Redgate, cond; Ens Exposé METIER 28504 (58:50)

For a celebrated and prolific composer, Brian Ferneyhough (b. 1943) is poorly represented in the catalogs, with just a handful of discs, and some important archive recordings unavailable. These Metier recordings were made in England in 2003, and they appear now thanks to the Divine Art company in North Yorkshire. Frustratingly, four of these pieces can also be found on competing CDs. The exceptions are Aligebrah for oboe and strings, written in 1996 (the longest piece on the CD at 18 minutes), and Coloratura , a short piece for oboe and piano.

This composer’s music looks fearsome on the page, but to the ear it’s accessible. The meaning is what matters, and Ferneyhough says his music is about “life.” I’d agree: life as it’s lived, thought about, struggled with, reconsidered, is more like Ferneyhough than Pärt.

The earliest piece here is the Coloratura from 1966, an enjoyably non-serial, modernist duo, with the players diverging, and occasionally finding common ground. All the other pieces are far more recent and much more complex on the surface. Flurries (1997) starts out like Carter, but entropy leaves an isolated voice, muttering irritably, 10 minutes later. The Trittico (1989) is, like the celebrated Cassandra’s Dream Song , an example of Ferneyhough’s manically multivocal approach to solo-writing. Life gets wrestled with, and once more leaves you alone with the sound of yourself. Incipits (1996) explores instrumental relations in the context of a series of “new beginnings” every minute or two, but no successful relations are established, and the tonal variety doesn’t add enough interest for me.

Aligebrah and the In nomine (2001) make the CD worth buying for Ferneyhough fans, though some of these other performances lack the final ounce of extremity. Aligebrah meshes oboe with wild lines from nine solo strings, before, as usual, ending with a solitary sound. In nomine carries on a centuries-old tradition, and is brief, to the point, and effective.

Ferneyhough uses music to express complex ideas, but as he points out, music is different from the other arts in the way it exists culturally and in terms of what one can get away with stylistically, with enough people. His own art will therefore have a limited audience, though soloists with an interest in transcendental technique will always be interested. There is wit and an extreme version of sensuality built into his work, especially when experienced live, but this music is often hard work all round. Ferneyhough collectors will want all Ferneyhough CDs, including this one. If you have no Ferneyhough, first get hold of the choral recital on Metier 28501, which may convert you.

FANFARE: Paul Ingram

Product Description:

  • Release Date: March 10, 2009

  • Catalog Number: MSV28504

  • UPC: 809730850424

  • Label: Metier

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Brian Ferneyhough

  • Conductor: Roger Redgate

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Exposé Ensemble