Ben Taffijn, Nieuwe Noten, 26 juillet 2022
vendredi 26 août 2022 Presse

Als er één strijkkwartet niet mag ontbreken in een serie over hedendaagse strijkkwartetten dan is het wel Quatuor Bozzini. Dit Canadese kwartet wijdt zich al decennia aan louter hedendaagse muziek en heeft reeds een groot aantal werken, vaak speciaal voor hen geschreven, in première gebracht. Eerder dit jaar verschenen albums met stukken van Tom Johnson, Combinations en Michael Oesterle, Quatuors op hun eigen label, als download te verkrijgen.

Tom Johnson hoort bij de belangrijkste componisten van de Amerikaanse minimal music, ook al is hij minder bekend geworden dan Phililp Glass, Steve Reich en Terry Riley, zijn muziek is er niet minder boeiend door. Muziek ook die het uiterste vraagt van een strijkkwartet. De repetitieve figuren die Johnson direct in het kwartet waar het album zijn titel aan ontleent, Combinations gebruikt, vragen om een perfecte instrumentbeheersing en een optimaal gevoel voor timing. In het eerste deel in een vrij hoog ritmisch tempo, in het tweede, het vierde en vijfde deel in een veel tragere samenhang, maar in het derde in een tempo dat veel weg heeft van een dans. Prachtig hoe Johnson hier samenhang creëert tussen de vier strijkers. Tilework for String Quartet heeft slechts één deel, speels maakt Johnson hier gebruik van de toonladder. Opvallend is het uit vijftien delen bestaande Four-Note Chords in Four Voices, een opvallend ingetogen stuk. Tot slot klinkt het uit acht delen bestaande Formulas for String Quartet, waarin Johnson wederom werkt met een serie bijzondere patronen. Sommige daarvan zijn zeer fragiel, zoals de eerste twee, andere zoals bijvoorbeeld de vijfde, zijn opwindend ritmisch.

Les figures répétitives que Johnson utilise d’emblée dans le quatuor dont l’album tire son titre, Combinations, exigent une maîtrise parfaite des instruments et un sens optimal du timing.


Dave Madden, The Squid’s Ear, 22 août 2022
mercredi 24 août 2022 Presse

Where much music places the composer, their vision and their efforts to clarify every scratch on the page the center of the universe, John Cage eschewed the authoritative narrative — particularly in his latter-years — to promote a natural, not strict, order. It’s like asking someone “be yourself” instead of forcing them to smile or act in front of a camera while also offering a pep talk to influence the desired result. Further, though, the goal is to “insert the individual into the current in which everything passes.”

Having previously reimagined Prokofiev, Le Sacre du printemps and Bartók’s Mikrokosmos, the Quartetski collective aim their talents at Cage’s Four6, an aleatoric process focused on the initial selection of twelve sounds with “fixed characteristics (amplitude, overtone, structure etc.) “ These are progressed per several time brackets found on the player’s scores (each player has a different sheet); a diagonal line connecting multiple time brackets indicates that interactions should occur more frequently.

The realization here by Isaiah Ceccarelli on percussion and synthesizer, Philippe Lauzier on bass clarinet and synthesizer, guitarist Bernard Falaise, and Pierre-Yves Martel on electric bass is, not surprisingly based on the œuvre of these four gentlemen, is incredibly sensitive, reverent, a feeling of patient conjuring without the intent of finishing anything to term. Stepping into the “For any way of producing sounds” directions, the group adopts a loose focus on the lugubrious: a deep bass clarinet tone with a pleasing intro and bratty overblown honk is enlarged with an amplified bass note, which subsequently fills the speakers; arrhythmic taps on metal played to technically be defined as “sustained”; Falaise gently wringing his guitar’s neck into earthquake tremors. The synthetic sounds range from ruminating, dripping blobs one associates with modular synthesizer, musically complete textural environments, and “sour” organ prelude in the vein of Kali Malone and FUJI|||||||||||TA.

Seemingly intentional, a good number of Cage interpretations purposefully translate as sunny and mild-mannered as the man’s spirited laughter and smile, Quartetski’s Four6 is tense and spooky. Some of the twelve sounds involve (satisfying) electric guitar extended techniques and aforementioned warbling synthesizer gestures; even the cooing bass clarinet tags the end of long, passive sustained notes with a bratty overblown hiccup. I was immediately struck with how it crawls in the same ritualistic way and sonically (timbre) echoes Stockhausen’s 1968 work Aus den sieben Tagen, a piece whose text-based score provides details to guide the player to “Intuitive music” (“instant creation in which fixed principles or rules may or may not have been given”). That work exudes a mysterious sinisterness where it’s unclear if one should run or grab a blanket; am I hearing creation or prolonged destruction of the universe? It is sublimity — in the truest sense of the word — and the furrowed brow with intent stare of Stockhausen.

Per Cage’s side-bar on Four6: “When performed as a solo, the first player’s part is used and the piece is called One7.” Per Quartetski (Martel): “For any pitched instrument able to play sustained notes… each player derives a chromatic tone row obtained using chance operations.” Though obviously not a solo, this second work holds to Lauzier’s (player one) initial bass clarinet gesture as the other three members restrict their movements and in turn have less accidental exchanges (i.e. happenstance chords) than the previous piece. Instead of slightly deviating as on Four6, the formal connection now seems both united and independent with each player supporting and handing off the same line in a Klangfarbenmelodie fashion. The long notes move like rock climbing where the lead carefully scales, thoughtfully pauses to set a purchase for those below who are also working to keep the first guy secure, repeat until finished all while holding the same rope/lead.

The lesson one learns from Cage — when performing Cage — is that the freedom implied from a lack of dynamics, instrumentation etc. on the page can become an unforgivable obstacle in the conservative musician’s mind. When my undergraduate score analysis class was presented with one of the man’s works (missing the instructions and author’s name), we stared intently for an hour trying to envision how a performance of graphs and squiggly numbers could hold interest to anyone. Based on Quartetski’s endeavors, the problem was we 18th Century harmony, cadence and meter-obsessed students. Cage’s is as elegant as those playing and respecting it. Quartetski just happens to be naturally photogenic.

[…] incredibly sensitive, reverent, a feeling of patient conjuring without the intent of finishing anything to term.


Brian Olewnick, The Squid’s Ear, 16 août 2022
mardi 16 août 2022 Presse

It is likely going too far to call it a trend, but in recent months there have been a number of releases from contemporary composers who reference pre- or early Renaissance composers in their pieces, both titularly and within the work, especially people like Hildegarde von Bingen and Johannes Ockeghem. It would seem to be a decent enough fit, especially to the extent that elements like drones, intertwined organ-y harmonies, etc. could be reasonably extended and transformed from such initial models. Ceccarelli, in previous releases on the Another Timbre label, has touched on this area, offering variations on Kyrie Eleisons and other church-based forms. On this gorgeous recording, he continues, obliquely, down the same path.

The only semi-direct reference to earlier times is in the enclosed text, in French, from an anonymous 14th century source. Ceccarelli employs a 16-member ensemble, including voice. The opening Prélude harks back directly to pre-Renaissance forms, though in a kind of state of suspension, the notes hanging a bit, less rigidly channeled. Bourdons, running more than 17 minutes, stretches things out beautifully and softly, luscious extended chords wafting through the room, gently buffeted by ringing percussion. In an odd way, it reminds this listener of a severely toned-down early version of Glenn Branca’s massive sound clouds — all the better, as well. Ceccarelli expands the palette in Des nuages noirs, forming a kind of sonic brocade (with soprano) that drifts further from traditional sources, still with long tones but the harmonies have modernized; quite a moving piece. The first of two Intermèdes is a mid-tempo dance, summoning memories of medieval recorder music while the second is a dark, low-string driven dirge, somber and chilling.

Aubade, another lengthy work, is in adjacent territory to Bourdons, a rich, welling hum, on the surface steady-state but containing all manner of complexities and just gorgeously arranged, an ecstatically enveloping experience. Another stately, almost minuet-like dance, Même au milieu de la vie leads, after the intervening second Intermède to the title piece. It shimmers in the air, with organetto, strings and metallophones forming a pulsing bed over which soprano Ellen Wieser floats in and out. Though remnants of an ecclesiastic sensibility remains, it goes beyond that, out into the wonders of the real world.

A marvelous recording, leaving this listener eager for more.

A marvelous recording, leaving this listener eager for more.


Brian Olewnick, The Squid’s Ear, 14 juillet 2022
mardi 19 juillet 2022 Presse

Tom Johnson has referred to himself as more of a list maker than composer and any survey of his work will at least partially bear this out. He often devises patterns, sometimes relatively simple or cyclic, sometimes complex, a little like aural presentations of a diagram of a mathematical sequence, and the musicians trace the resultant patterns. As one might expect, this can lead to music that is occasionally a bit on the dry side. But often enough, as with deterministic but highly detailed math sets, the result can be wondrous, even deeply moving. Sometimes it seems that this can depend on the interpreter. For example, the original recording of Johnson’s The Chord Catalog (XI Records, 1999), accurately subtitled, “All the 8178 Chords Possible in One Octave”, played on piano by the composer, was an impenetrably dense and regular iteration of the premise, an oppressive experience. Johnson conceded that his own limited pianistic prowess was an impediment, however, and when Samuel Vriezen tackled the work (Wandelweiser, 2013), the outcome was revelatory, the composition blooming into a hitherto unheard sound world of endless fascination. As the notes on this disc state, “Tom Johnson uses numbers as base material, turning formulas, combinations and other mathematic phenomena into music. And somehow, this music becomes poetry.”

Happily, the pieces on this recording are performed by perhaps the single most exciting and innovative string quartet now extant, Quatuor Bozzini (Alissa Cheung, violin; Clemens Merkel, violin; Stéphanie Bozzini, viola; Isabelle Bozzini, cello). Four works are presented: a stand alone piece (Tilework for String Quartet (2003)) and three sets of compositions, ranging from five to fifteen elements and consisting of relatively short pieces, several below a minute in length.

Combinations for String Quartet (2003) has five sections, the first coming as close to “standard” minimalism as anything here, reminding this listener of Reich’s Violin Phase. Four sets of four repeated notes are played, initially by one member, joined gradually by the others playing slightly augmented versions of the first line. After all four members are sawing, three drop out and a single member returns with a slightly different melody and the process continues. It’s a good example of a fairly “simple” process yielding fascinating results that lie just beyond the listener’s ability to confidently predict what comes next. After a sparse, lovely second section, part three arrives with a wonderfully bewildering set of six note phases that alternate as a sort of round followed by an interlocking pattern; again, easy enough to parse apart, difficult to keep it all in your head. And quite impressive. A drier, spare section (with some, to these ears, surprising echoes of Shostakovich), leads to the final portion, a kind of elegiac music, with somewhat mournful iterations of an eight-note melody played by all members. Tilework also plays with phrases of six and twelve notes, but interspersed among other compositions; as tiles, this is a complex set of tesserae, forming patterns here, dissembling them there, re-emerging in slightly different form at still another point. The basic pattern is rather jaunty, perhaps even reflecting Baroque motifs, disassembled.

Four-Note Chords in Four Voices (2009) consists of fifteen short parts, with durations of between 0:14 and 2:18. They’re taken slowly, the harmonies once again possessing a dirge-like aspect, with a mix of hymnal sweetness and Ives-ian atonality. There’s a general downward trend in the patterns, reminding me of a series of falling leaves, very moving, including the last movement, an abrupt ending with but three notes that leaves one a bit shaken. The final work, Formulas for String Quartet contains eight brief parts. The first section is light in tone, with a seesawing three note pattern repeated over a high, rhythmic six-note phrase scurrying beneath; fairly “traditional” sounding in this context. The next two parts are softer, more melancholy, before the fourth movement stirs things up again, with active, agitative layers of rising notes that assume a struggling, even romantic character. In much of this music, any mathematical or formulaic underpinnings are well hidden; coming in blind, I’m not sure the innocent listener would suspect anything of the kind, though it’s doubtless there, working its magic. Parts V and VII again evoke older forms of minimalism, here perhaps a slice of John AdamsShaker Loops. The work, and disc, ends on a questioning note, with ascending phrases that never quite attain purchase, fittingly.

A wonderful document, superbly played by Quatuor Bozzini, and a fine example of Johnson’s very unique approach to… list making.

A wonderful document, superbly played by Quatuor Bozzini, and a fine example of Johnson’s very unique approach to… list making.


Tiina Kiik, The WholeNote, no 27:8, 1 juillet 2022
mardi 19 juillet 2022 Presse
Contemporary music aficionados, and all other listeners too, are encouraged to experience this great Girard-Charest release.