Saturday, February 09, 2008

Brumel to Denisov

I can't believe that a group called the 'Speculum Ensemble' records a piece by Brumel called 'Missa de Beata Virgine'. Not surprisingly it's an all-male band, and the music is a capella polyphonic, what with Antoine Brumel being a French renaissance composer. Can't quite remember how this music comes to be on my Ipod, but I must have bought it. (The title of the piece gives a little clue.) My latest course goes from about Tallis to Kraftwerk and later, and my musical horizon is expanding rapidly. Never thought I would like renaissance music, having had some bruising encounters with Gesualdo (the person who he murdered had a much worse encounter), but the church music is actually very interesting and moving. My faith goes through music.

Whilst I was pounding the treadmill this morning, the Ipod was shuffling along from Brumel via Bach's double violin concerto to Denisov's concerto for 2 violas, harpsichord and strings. During the Brumel I was comparing the polyphony of Brumel with Georgian polyphonic music (of today, though I am not sure when the pieces we sing first arose). Georgian music has 3 voices and different kinds of harmonies, and tends to end in unison (bit symbolic that, after going round all the polyphonic lines). People say it can't be written down because the notes don't fit a keyboard. I'm sure someone could try today, when people write in quarter tones etc. And then I went on to wonder what the renaissance music would have sounded like to their ears, given that at the time they did not have tempered instruments. Subject of massive debates, of course, but I suppose we will never know. Even then it was written down and now we approach it with modern voices, instruments (mostly) and recording techniques.

The Denisov was interesting, though I found myself rather stuck with it. It's a long piece when you are running to it .... but that's the point of shuffling in a captive atmosphere. First I thought it would be Schnittke, especially when the harpsichord exploded on the scene, but then out of the corner of my eye I could just make out the name of Denisov. Is the harpsichord amplified? Only just now I spotted the viola component. That's very interesting. The middle bit which had some resemblance to Bach's Ciaconna, though probably not the structure, did show some very powerful chord crunching (and not ever, even on my Ipod, expecting that much viola music, I thought they were just some very powerful violins, though why I thought 'Gidon Kremer' is beyond me - he does powerful playing but his sound is often little). It's Nobuko Imai's recording with Annelie de Man and the Amsterdam Nieuw Sinfonietta - and it's certainly a very powerful and energetic piece which deserves to be performed much more; it gets you out of your seat! And there is so little repertoire for 2 solo violas....