The Music Of Ursula Mamlok, Vol. 3
MAMLOK 5 Capriccios 3,6. Stray Birds. 1,2,11 Fantasy-Variations. 12 Panta Rhei. 7,9,10 5 Bagatelles. 4,8,10 String Quartet No. 2 13. Confluences. 4,7,8,10 Kontraste 3,5 • 1 Phyllis Bryn-Julson (sop); 2 Harvey Sollberger (fl); 3 Heinz Holliger (ob); 4 Helge Harding (cl); 5 Urusla Holliger (hp); 6 Anton Kernjak, 7 Heather O’Donnell (pn); 8 Kirsten Harms, 9 Susanne Zapf (vn); 10 Cosima Gerhardt, 11 Fred Sherry, 12 Jakob Spahn (vc); 13 Sonar Qrt • BRIDGE 9360 (72:45 Text and Translation)
This is the third disc from Bridge devoted to the music of Ursula Mamlok; I reviewed the second in Fanfare 34:6. Like its predecessor, it offers an attractive and varied conspectus of the music of this impressive composer. Again the works cover a wide span of time, here from Stray Birds (1963, written when the composer was 40) to Kontraste (2010). It is gratifying to hear no falling-off of quality; indeed, the consistently high level of inspiration and technique is a hallmark of this disc (if I may be so presumptuous). Also again, we have many multimovement works, here totalling 33 tracks. Most of the movements are short (less than two minutes) and this concision can be hard to take in at first.
It is interesting that seven of the eight works here contain one movement that is far longer than any of the others in the work. In the case of the Five Capriccios for oboe and piano (1968) that open the disc, the final movement, even though it is barely four minutes, is still longer than the other four combined. Curiously, there is no sense in which the structure of any of the works on this disc feels unbalanced, nor does one feel that the shorter movements are breathless, or cut short. Mamlok judges the structures perfectly. In the first of the capriccios, one may think the trick is going to be a limited amount of thematic material in each movement, but the second and fourth capriccios are impassioned and intense with diving and swooping melodic lines. All four create powerful little statements (really, with Mamlok’s music every note has an active, individual purpose) that are then elegantly and coolly meditated upon in the relatively extended finale. In this work each movement is merely given a metronome marking; in later works Mamlok was given to somewhat poetic names for these longer movements. They are typically marked “Still, with utmost simplicity,” “Still, as if suspended,” though there are also a Larghetto , a Molto tranquillo , and so on. It is as if the brisk movements collect the necessary ingredients to enable the slow movement, usually at or toward the end of the work, to happen.
The Five Bagatelles for clarinet, violin, and cello (1988) shows Mamlok’s style becoming somewhat more diatonic. At the same time, every note seems carefully chosen and weighed; the music is written with care and precision, so that even as simple an idea as the insistent oscillating minor third that runs through and characterizes the second movement appears fresh yet inevitable. The odd-numbered pieces are especially good at capturing gaiety and humor while the long penultimate bagatelle, poignant and drawn out, is a satisfying contrast. In the Second String Quartet, from 1998, one can hear Mamlok’s style has subtly shifted again. If in the earlier works discussed the instruments were sharply characterized individuals, always playing against each other—against in the sense of differentiated from, not in an antagonistic way—in the quartet there is, in addition, more concerted music (in the first movement, for example) and even (in the second) momentary deference of an instrument to the others by adopting an accompanying role (I’m thinking of the slow pizzicatos). And, in the third and last movement, real drama and tension, with some sharp shifts of tempo and mood, all in an event-packed four minutes. I think “concision” is probably an unhelpful word for a lot of Mamlok’s music; “compression” would be better. And if I pass over the remaining works on the disc, it is only through lack of space.
The string quartet receives a fine, committed performance from the Sonar Quartet, three of whose members—Kirsten Harms, Susanne Zapf, and Cosima Gerhardt—play in three other works on the discs. Apart from the two Holliger pieces and Stray Birds , the recordings here are a coproduction with German Radio Köln, and they are as fine and meticulous as are the performances and the music itself. The Holliger performances, which open and close the disc, and which are a little cooler in presentation, come from Zürich. Stray Birds is a reissue of a recording previously on CRI. Bridge has done the composer proud. I found it a long disc to review—not, I hasten to add, because I disliked the music, but because it demands and deserves the same attention from the listener that the composer evidently gave it. One didn’t really want to listen to this CD all the way through, preferring to savor a couple of pieces at a time. And, it’s true, I found I needed time to get into the music. But it richly repays the effort and I certainly feel my somewhat neutral response to the earlier disc must be reviewed. This is clearly music that should be heard, which will appeal to the heart as much as the head, and which will enrich as well as entertain.
FANFARE: Jeremy Marchant
Catalog Number: BCD9360
Label: Bridge Records
Composer: Ursula Mamlok
Orchestra/Ensemble: Sonar String Quartet
Performer: Anton Kernjak, Cosima Gerhardt, Fred Sherry, Harvey Sollberger, Heather O'Donnell, Heinz Holliger, Helge Harding, Jakob Spahn, Kirsten Harms, Phyllis Bryn-Julson, Susanne Zapf, Ursula Holliger