Rebecca Saunders (II): Solo

Performances of the utmost commitment from members of Klangforum Wien; Saunders could hardly ask for finer accounts

Rebecca Saunders (II): Solo

The second post around the performances of Rebecca Saunders' Piano Concerto to an utterance centres on this composer's solo works. Saunders collaborates closely with her soloists, and the fruit of those collaborations is heard in solo garb on this disc.

The first piece, Shadow (2013), has received a number of recordings: Magdalena Cerezo Falces on Capriccio's multii-disc set Velte Rihm offers a hard-edged performance, haronics nicely activated offering a shimmering background of static peace (albeit an objective one) against which the foreground piano shards provide harsh contrast: the foreground's "shadow" achieved by a complex interaction of the piano's pedals. Even harder-edged is Richard Valitutto's performance on a disc somewhat ironicallty called nocturnes & lullabies recently (March 2020) released on New Focus Recordings. Florian Müller is the pienist on this new disc and is finest of the lot, offering the full spectrum of gesture versus sustained field of sound, exploring the landscape with a sort of infinite curiousity:

Arojnd 8'55 a solo "voice" speaks - a repeated note on the piano that seems to act plaintively, almost as if to try to calm the beasts of the clusters that hop around the keyboard like so many angry frogs. Müller's breadth of expression is incredibly impressive. You can find a perusal score of Shadow here.

The second piece is Dust of 2017/18 for percussion solo, performed here by Björn Wilker:

There is a similar duality to Dust: the interaction of the implacable percussion instruments themselves with the human body of the performer; and a similar search for the essences of sounds in micro-dimensions (how subtle can one be with a brush againt a drum, for example?). The piece is highly elusive, fluttering on the threshold of audibility at times, etheric - even angelic? - sometimes invoking bells, sometimes operating in another dimension entirely.

The 19-minute Solitude (2013) for solo cello - here Andreas Lindenbaum - is a piece that seems to emerge out of, and to recede into, silence. The ssilence of solitude one assumes, whetehr performer of these pieces or, indeed, the life of a composer. Lindenbaum is a most expressive player, asked to create the most remarkable sounds, all perfectly captured in this fabulous recording:

The most desolate soundscape yet, Solitude leads to Flesh (2018) for solo accordion with recitation.

An astonishing piece of virtuosity here by Andreas Lindenbaum. Saunders notates everythhing, form the speed of the movement of the accordion's bag to how the recitation (of Molly Bloom's monologue from James Joyce's Ulysses) is managed. Again, there is the sense of a background flow of recitation (like the harmonics in teh first piece for piano, Shadow). It cedes to the solo violin Hauch, a study from 2018:

Here's what Saunders herself has to say about Hauch:

Hauch n. (German):
Hauch has no exact translation in English. It is a trace, touch, hint, tinge, soupçon, tang, wisp, or a breath of something.
It implies a suggestion or intimation of the thing: a shadow, an aura, a glimmer hidden beneath the surface.
Hauch is a solo study exploring pianissimo timbral nuances at the top of the lowest violin strings; tracing fragments of melody, drawn on a thread in and out of silence.
Surface, weight and touch of musical performance: the bow drawing the sound out of silence; the slightest differentiation of touch on the string; the expansion of the muscles between the shoulder blades; the player ́s in-breath preceeding the played tone...The fallible physical body behind the sound: feeling the weight of sound, exploring the essence of a timbre.

Again, then, that physicality that is so much of the experience. And nowhere is the visceral nature of performance felt than in the exuberance of the 2020 "study" to an utterance (2020) performed thsi time by Joonas Ahonen (the same performer we met earlier in the week in the music of Charles Ives on BIS).Commissioned specifically for this recording by Klangforum Wien, this is a sound painting of broad brush strokes that closes unforgettably, its final note hanging in the air - the perfect close to the disc:

This disc provides an invaluable complement to the solo works with orchestra disc covered earlier this week. Performances of the utmost commitment from members of Klangforum Wien; Saunders could hardly ask for finer accounts.