Daniel Kellogg – Soft Sleep Shall Contain You: A Meditation on Schubert’s Death and the Maiden (UK Première)

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Last autumn, on 27 November, at a lunchtime concert at London’s Wigmore Hall, the renowned Takacs Quartet gave the UK Première of the American composer Daniel Kellogg‘s Soft Sleep Shall Contain You: A Meditation on Schubert’s Death and the Maiden. As that title suggests, the piece draws on material from Schubert’s quartet, specifically the theme used as the basis for the second movement.

It begins with great slowness, presenting a chromatic, descending idea that has a tendency to end in emphatic perfect fifths. It’s a plaintive opening, only gradually hinting at material from Death and the Maiden; Kellogg allows these initial dabs of sonic stuff to slide around like beads of mercury, occasionally meeting and momentarily coalescing into something recognisable—Schubert’s first chord, for example, materialises only to vanish away again immediately. Eventually, the quartet makes an overtly lyrical statement, which becomes the cue for a launch into denser material and more aggressive interplay. There’s a sense here of struggle, of grinding away at something mundane, prosaic, before another abrupt shift, now into a more rhythmically driving section. Skimming the surface, the contours of Schubert’s melody now become apparent, and later, the well-known chord sequence is heard loud and clear, while the music’s grip on tonality wavers disconcertingly. Read more

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Anna Meredith – Four Tributes to 4am (World Première)

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It’s high time we caught up with some premières here on 5:4; there have been quite a few on Radio 3 in the last few months, and by the look of things, there are going to be many more in the near future. Last night, the first performance of a new work by Anna Meredith was broadcast, performed by sinfonia ViVA (a group i’d not come across before) under the direction of André de Ridder. Meredith’s relationship to the ensemble is “Composer in the House”, and both that title, together with sinfonia ViVA’s choice of upper-/lower-case tomfoolery, suggest an attempt at a slightly edgy, Jamie Oliver kind of attitude to music-making, piled high with lashings of street cred.

What Meredith provided seems entirely in keeping with that model; titled Four Tributes to 4am, her piece originates in an exploration of “the crossover point between yesterday and tomorrow, at the deadest part of the night”. Inspiration for this came via an autumnal perambulation round the city of Derby, soaking up the urban atmos. Meredith has focused on four geographical points that are then depicted as musical ‘portraits’. Read more

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Aidan Baker – Lost in the Rat Maze

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There will be some who regard Aidan Baker as not just an important part of post-rock, ambient doom music, but as a sine qua non of that scene, perhaps even the benchmark by which its practitioners should be measured and judged. Such is his perceived importance to many, and the sheer scale of his output (Discogs lists no fewer than 93 solo releases, including this one) makes for an intimidating testament to the breadth and abundance of his creative imagination. Size isn’t everything, of course, and it often follows that, the more prolific the artist, the more inconsistent is the quality of their work. Furthermore, it’s interesting how the overwhelming amount of music Baker has created through the last decade serves as both an aid and a hindrance when approaching new releases – we know, broadly speaking, what to expect; equally, we never quite know what we’re going to hear. There are few artists about which that could be said; Aidan Baker’s work is nothing if not enigmatic. Read more

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Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972

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If there’s one thing that characterises Tim Hecker’s music, it’s a spirit of dichotomy, sitting comfortably betwixt smooth, rounded ambient edges and jagged points of noise. Ravedeath, 1972 continues that dichotomy, and embodies another one, combining the effervescent caprice of live improvisation with the cool consideration subsequently brought to bear on it in the studio.

From the outset, this album makes it clear that noise is going to be the order of the day. First track ‘The Piano Drop’ – presumably named for the curious event on the cover – unveils material pushed into overload, although it’s neither harsh nor forbidding, bludgeoning the ears with all the force of a pillow fight. Its spinning surface quickly erodes away due to its own constriction into a more shimmering, pulsating kind of object, that seems to fade rather too quickly (i could happily have listened to this develop for a lot longer). Read more

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Requiem for Mozart – part 4

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The clue is in the title—”… and the candle went out!”—and this fourth and final episode of Requiem for Mozart, broadcast on 10 December 1991, is irrevocably drawn to Mozart’s impending end. It opens, however, in the spring of 1781, and an atmosphere of levity, the composer buoyed up on the success of, first, Le nozze di Figaro, and then Don Giovanni. Nonetheless, almost immediately these successes are militated against by the combination of an increasing sense of ‘difficulty’ in Mozart’s music (from the perspective of both performer and listener) in addition to his steadily worsening financial state. Of this, the episode recounts in detail Mozart’s well-known begging letters to friend and fellow freemason Michael Puchberg (although the drama almost implies Mozart’s reason for joining the Masonic lodge was that it might aid his financial situation), who replies with kind generosity. Read more

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Requiem for Mozart – part 3

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The third part of Requiem for Mozart, “I didn’t know I was a valet!”, was broadcast on 3 December 1991, just two days before the 200th anniversary of Mozart’s death. The episode’s title speaks of the indignation Mozart felt upon his return to Vienna, where his employer Archbishop Colloredo treated him with the typical disdain given to all his other servants: “The two valets sit at the top of the table, but at least I am placed above the cooks!”. Despite attempts at cooling the situation from father Leopold, it doesn’t take long for the two of them to come to verbal blows, resulting in Mozart attempting to terminate his employment. He ultimately gets his wish, but it’s the Archbishop who executes the coup de grâce, arranging for his steward to send Mozart packing “with a kick on the arse”. A far greater distraction soon presents itself, however; having moved in with the Weber family (who had relocated to Vienna from Mannheim), Mozart convinces himself marriage would be a good idea, and having moved on from Aloysia, decides on Constanze as a suitable wife. Read more

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Requiem for Mozart – part 2

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Part 2 of Requiem for Mozart, “I will no longer be a fiddler!”, was broadcast on 26 November 1991. It picks up the story in 1777, with Mozart’s decision to relinquish his post in Salzburg, his eye set on securing a more notable position in Paris. Thus begins a fairly tempestuous time in Mozart’s life, including the beginnings of his infatuation with singer Aloysia Weber (while in Mannheim, a visit en route that ultimately came to nothing) and the death of his mother. Leopold positively explodes with anger at his son’s over-blown assessment of Fräulein Weber, while in Paris Mozart suffers unhelpful, even obstructive treatment at the hands of a motley collection of establishment figures. We also hear Mozart’s oft-quoted account of the reaction to the last movement of his Symphony No. 31 (nicknamed “Paris”); opting for an atypically quiet opening for the finale, he recalls how “everybody said ‘hush’, and then, at the forte, everyone clapped their hands!” Read more

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