Proms 2016: Julian Anderson – Incantesimi & Paul Desenne – Hipnosis mariposa (UK Premières)

As the end of the Proms draws nigh, the new works seem to have been taking on an increasing delicacy. And, to a large extent, simplicity, Julian Anderson‘s Incantesimi taking inspiration from the orrery, a mechanical reproduction of the the solar system, while Venezuelan composer Paul Desenne, in a homage to late singer Simón Díaz, draws on one of his children’s songs, ‘El Becerrito’, about a cow called Butterfly who has a calf (also known as ‘La vaca Mariposa’; words here), as the basis for his work Hipnosis mariposa.

Anderson’s Incantesimi, performed by the Berlin Philharmonic under Simon Rattle (for whom it was written; they gave the first performance in Berlin in June), doesn’t so much emulate an orrery as allude to its machinations. To that end, while there isn’t a convincing sense of recurring, concentric ideas (despite the programme note’s claims), there are clearly differentiated ideas at play; furthermore, although these ideas aren’t particularly interesting in themselves, the way Anderson juxtaposes them is far more engaging, and it’s at this level of what one can imagine Messiaen calling a ‘counterpoint of personnages’ that Incantesimi works strongest. The most prevalent idea is a never-ending line on the cor anglais, which makes its way over and under everything else. Much of this “everything else” is, in contrast to a great deal of Anderson’s previous work, pleasantly ambiguous, occupying a dark and mysterious soundscape launched from a rather fantastic opening, slow, low and laden with contrabassoon and double bass growls. The work’s different ideas tend to have distinct timbral/registral qualities, enabling the piece to play with notions of density and stratification; every now and then this results in a compressed pile-up, in due course answered by more separated, sparser material. Anderson’s use of the orchestra has some nice moments of novelty, particularly a very strong episode a little over halfway through, where vast amounts of wind and gesture are met with what sound like car-size hailstones falling from on high, interspersed with brief glimpses of high string fragility. What all this amounts to is hard to say; it may not be terribly profound, but beneath its shifting surface details, the piece does have some depth. And while Incantesimi as a whole isn’t exactly memorable (though moments like i’ve just described certainly are), yet the looser approach to structure, allowing the piece to feel relatively mobile and spontaneous, is demonstrably effective. It would be nice to hear what happens if Anderson loosens the reins still further.

Shifting surface details also pervade Paul Desenne’s Hipnosis mariposa , given its first UK performance last Sunday by the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gustavo Dudamel. The original song’s 5/8 metre runs through the music like an undercurrent, from its nascent opening moments through much of what follows, with varying degrees of prominence. In some respects the piece is like a more mellow relative of Marlos Nobre’s Kabbalah, Desenne refraining from letting the Latin rhythms and melodic urges from running amok, but channelling them in a measured but undeniably playful way. Stylistically, the piece has many hallmarks of film music (especially the first few minutes), and there are some cheeky occasional Milhaud-like off-key contributions from stage left, but the way Desenne spends the majority of the work exploring the outcomes of a constantly changing, swirling melting pot of motifs and gestures is impressive and, in this context, surprisingly serious. The work’s free-spirited sense of flow has a Vltava-esque (or should that be Orinoco-esque?) quality, and only quite late in its duration does Desenne increase the rhythmic impetus, in the process ramping up the tempo, yet even here the music remains, in the best sense, vague and meandering, finally quietening into a collection of woodwind threads wrapped in warm lyricism by the strings. All in all, an unexpected treat.

Julian Anderson – Incantesimi (UK Première)

FLAC [54Mb]

Programme note
I hear a special quality in the way the Berlin Philharmonic colours slow music. I also think Sir Simon Rattle has a wonderful way of carrying and characterising long lines. There’s rhythm and flow. So I decided to write something showing off that. In Incantesimi, I use five musical ideas that orbit each other in ever differing relationships, somewhat like planets in an orrery. The cor anglais plays a special role with recurring solo lines. The work is an eight-minute span of time on the outside, but it gives a sense of being much more expansive, which is an illusion only music can give.
—Julian Anderson
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Julian Anderson – Incantesimi
  • Loved it! (24%, 8 Votes)
  • Liked it (36%, 12 Votes)
  • Meh (27%, 9 Votes)
  • Disliked it (12%, 4 Votes)
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Total Voters: 33

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Paul Desenne – Hipnosis mariposa (UK Première)

FLAC [52Mb]

Programme note
“Hipnosis Mariposa”, commissioned by Gustavo Dudamel for the Simon Bolivar Orchestra, premiered in 2014 to celebrate the memory of the late Simón Díaz, one of Venezuela’s most renowned popular composers, is an orchestral reverie woven with strands of one of his most famous songs, “El Becerrito” (the little calf), also known as “La vaca Mariposa” (“A cow named Butterfly”). Diaz, a beloved, bucolic songwriter, brought pastoral memories back to the rural migrants of the sixties through his vast catalogue of recordings and charming songs. This particular one, in 5/8 time, a genre which is specifically Venezuelan, conveys a lot more than a simple melody; it’s the entire rhythmic playfulness of traditional Venezuelan music, the magical spell in the poetry of the savannas of the Orinoco basin that drives the orchestral flow. Each successive verse of the song, every shift and turn of its catchy melody is used to weave the soundscapes, inspiring the geometry of gestures and phrasing. The popular music form, which generally imposes a relatively simple harmonic discourse, explodes here into larger sections, transformed by instrumental variations and progressive mutations. The images in the song (the verses of which are literally known by every child in the country) are illustrated in sounds, like medieval illuminations enhancing a silently rememorated text: the clouds of green chirping parakeets, the solitary whistles of a hawk, the mooing of a little calf; images and dances floating in a dreamy collage reminiscent of similar songs from the stunningly beautiful regions of the Venezuelan plains.
—Paul Desenne
Have Your Say
Paul Desenne – Hipnosis mariposa
  • Loved it! (6%, 1 Votes)
  • Liked it (31%, 5 Votes)
  • Meh (31%, 5 Votes)
  • Disliked it (25%, 4 Votes)
  • Hated it! (6%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 16

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