Ferneyhough: Shadowtime

COMPOSERS: Ferneyhough
LABELS: NMC
ALBUM TITLE: Ferneyhough
WORKS: Shadowtime
PERFORMER: Ekkehard Abele, Angelika Luz, Monika Meier-Schmid; Neue Vacalsolisten Stuttgart; Mats Scheidegger (guitar), Nicolas Hodges (piano); Nieuw Ensemble/Jurjen Hempel
CATALOGUE NO: NMC D123
These two discs should only be explored by the intrepidly adventurous listener. Brian Ferneyhough’s music has for many decades, and rightly, been regarded as among the toughest nuts of the European avant-garde, and while his instrumental works are terrifying to play and to listen to in their complexity, this opera is even more of a challenge. That challenge is heroically met by the performers here, who must have taken years

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to prepare for this performance.

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We don’t even get the text, but maybe the best thing is to know the outline of the work – you can’t say it’s a story – and listen with the ears of faith. That was how I treated it, and though there were long stretches where I was simply lost, there were others, quite long ones, where the impression of power and even of beauty was strong, even though I will have to listen many more times than I have so far had a chance to. What does seem clear is that this is altogether more impressive than most new works that turn up in the opera house, have a short run, and are never heard of again. Ferneyhough’s music, all of it, is so daunting to play that it will never be featured often; but it is possible to be both bewildered and highly impressed, and that is the reaction that any open-minded listener should have to this opera. The dedication of the performers to bringing this work to life is unimaginable. Michael Tanner