COMPOSERS: Alexander Goehr
ALBUM TITLE: Goehr: When Adam Fell
WORKS: When Adam Fell; Pastorals; Marching to Carcassone
PERFORMER: Peter Serkin (piano); London Sinfonietta; BBC Symphony Orchestra/Oliver Knussen
CATALOGUE NO: 8.573052
Alexander Goehr has been called rather dauntingly ‘the intellectual consicence of British new music’, an accolade belied by his colourful and often playful music. When Adam Fell (2011) is based on a chromatic bass line from Bach’s chorale-setting Durch Adam’s Fall, yet the result is not straight-forward neo-Baroque: indeed, the opening gestures – familiar in outline yet harmonically transferred into something rich and rather strange – sound as close to Tchaikovsky as to Bach. The following Pastorals (1965) is not a rural idyll, Goehr explains in the CD booklet, but a setting for violent events to do with Oedipus Rex: the result is not a brutal work à la Birtwistle, yet has elements of expressionism which suggest Bartók as well as Goehr’s beloved Schoenberg. Marching to Carcassonne (2002) is a very Stravinskyan suite of nine pieces, including a recurring march which will never reach its destination since ‘at each appearance,’ Goehr says, ‘it is precisely half as long as it had been in its previous version’. Even this neo-Baroque divertissement is haunted by Schoenberg, its wonderfully eerie ‘Night’ movement being consciously modelled on the similarly-titled song from Pierrot Lunaire.
Goehr’s abrupt and sometimes fragmentary style sometimes takes a few listens to grasp, but its lean textures and evocative instrumental colours are ideal for Oliver Knussen’s meticulous ear for detail and delight in sonority. Himself the dedicatee of When Adam Fell, Knussen brings out the music’s sparkle and lively character.