BIS (Full price) (CD) CD 665 (60 minutes: DDD)
Edison Denisov continues to impress me with his basic artistic integrity. More than many of his contemporaries on the Russian compositional scene, he has maintained a basic commitment to a "progressive" twentieth-century language, largely chromatic and angular, and has eschewed most of the fashionable postmodern switchbacks and juxtapositions. This does not mean, however, that his music is gray or bland: rather, it projects a strong lyrical impulse, his orchestration often allows for extravagant gestures of exotic timbres and sonorities, and his love for the core repertoire often brings a dialog with earlier music into the forefront of his own pieces (though when quotation does occur, it is part of a thoroughly worked-out "discourse" with earlier music, not just pastiche). All these characteristics are evident in this new disc, which focuses mostly on saxophone works. The 1970 sonata is already something of a repertoire classic in a field that is only starting to explode. (Curiously enough, I heard it for the first time at a concert in Berlin only about three weeks before I received this disc for review.) It is a carefully crafted work that starts out rather tight, almost constricting within its motivic structure, becomes very intensely quiet in its second movement (for most of which the saxophone plays alone), and then erupts into a jazz/blues-influenced third movement that is great fun and which doesn't demean its sources with musical slumming. Peinture (also 1970) is a sensitive, richly orchestrated tone poem which works up to a grand climax. It is serial, but here one can really hear the row generating all sorts of motivic connections, as in Webern. Denisov also has a knack for creating great cascades of tintinnabulations, "bell-showers" with glockenspiel and celesta, and this piece is no exception.
The 1986 concerto is a reworking of an earlier violin concerto, but sounds utterly natural in its new incarnation. The saxophone is constantly swooping, trilling, slithering between the orchestra's internal lines in the first movement and then becomes much more traditionally lyrical in the second. The third is a brief, almost parodistically pointillistic introduction to the great conceit of the piece, the fourth movement's set of variations on Schubert's Impromptu in A-flat Major (op. 142, no. 2, D. 935). The Schubert appears repeatedly in the celesta, and the saxophone at times weaves recognizable variations around it, at times moves into regions that seem unrelated. Yet it is a curious and haunting quality of the piece, that this "alien" material (most of it either heard in the first movement or suggestive of it) somehow starts to sound related nevertheless. Almost despite itself, the ear starts to make connections, to hear a connection between a repeated note here and a similar fragment of the Schubert, between a trill and a piece of nineteenth-century figuration, etc. At times the chromatic melodies can get a bit lugubriously abstract, but this remains a piece that grows on repeated listenings, and bespeaks a profound love of Denisov's for Schubert and the "lost" tradition it represents (which paradoxically, is not so lost when music like this can still be written).
Claude Delangle is a stunning player, with gorgeous tone, effortless dexterity, and most importantly with the saxophone -- immaculate dynamic control. Otaka and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales are both sure accompanists and interpreters in their own right (as is the soloist's pianist-wife, about whom the program notes give us no other information). The recorded sound is excellent. Though there are a couple of other recordings of the sonata listed in Schwann/Opus, one of them is on a collection by Delangle, and it appears that these are first recordings of the concerto and tone poem. A must for those interested in either new Russian music or the saxophone repertoire.
(Fanfare, May/June 1996)
This is elusive music, which might be seeking to hide its personality behind a veil of allusions - to anything and everything from jazz to 12-note technique, impressionism, expressionism, and even that romantic reliance on quotation so important to other Russian-born contemporary composers.
The earliest work here, the grandly conceived Peinture (1970), indicates the issues, with a subdued expressionistic quality that seems more French than German in character, and with a start-lingly powerful climax that echoes Scriabin, in mood if not in style. The two works for saxophone are not on the same level. The Sonata (1970) is well-crafted and never loses the listener's interest, but it is fairly nondescript in its effect. The Concerto is much more substantial, but again its highly wrought technical features, the well-balanced forms and long, finely-shaped melodic lines, serve an understated anonymity as much as a positively projected creative personality. Moreover, the whole work (an arrangement of the 1986 Viola Concerto) represents a further stage in Denisov's obsession with Schubert's A flat Impromptu, D935 No. 2, variations on whose theme appear to relate closely to those in the work for cello and piano recorded on Etcetera
. This music is undoubtedly distinctive in its retreat from the kind of assertiveness and directness found in Kancheli or Schnittke, and Denisov is well served by the performers and the recording team. I suspect that these works have a good deal more to tell me than I've so far been able to perceive.
(From: Gramophone, August 1996)