Ferneyhough: Time and Motion Studies No. I; Time and Motion Studies No. II; Kurze Schatten II; Bone Alphabet

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COMPOSERS: Ferneyhough
LABELS: Etcetera
WORKS: Time and Motion Studies No. I; Time and Motion Studies No. II; Kurze Schatten II; Bone Alphabet
PERFORMER: Elision
CATALOGUE NO: KTC 1206
The immense surface complexity of Brian Ferneyhough’s instrumental writing – the arcanely irrational rhythms, the meticulously detailed dynamics and articulation – have never disguised the visceral force that drives his music. Ferneyhough’s creative impulse is a thoroughly Romantic one, and the quest for transcendence is one of the persisting concerns of all his music. That energy and ambition emerge most clearly in his solo works, and particularly in those from the Seventies – the first two of the Time and Motion Studies, for bass clarinet, and cello with electronics respectively (there is a third, for unaccompanied voices), and the immensely challenging Unity Capsule for flute. The endlessly striving bass clarinet lines that work themselves up into ever greater fury, the live cello’s gradual suffocation by technological distortions and reflections, and the flute’s constant struggle to articulate a lyrical, expressive line through a welter of special effects, all conjure up vivid and compelling images.

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In that period Ferneyhough deliberately made impossible demands on his interpreters, adding yet another layer of tension to music that was already highly wrought; on this disc the members of the Australian group Elision make sure that dramatic tension never slackens. The solo works for guitar and percussion are later, cooler and in a sense less Utopian, yet the writing remains immensely virtuosic, and still driven by fundamentally simple impulses. In Kurze Schatten II the guitar strings shift steadily from quarter-tones to conventional tuning, as if a musical object was gradually coming into focus; in Bone Alphabet the non-specific instrumentation (Ferneyhough just prescribes seven different sound sources) allows him to concentrate on rhythmic layers which overlap and interweave to create constantly changing webs of pulsation. Intriguing, if not packing the same punch as the earlier pieces. Andrew Clements