Streams (Navona Records NV 5918), 2013
Martin Schlumpf: “Mouvements” (Martin Levicky, Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, Vit Micka), “Waves” (Petr Nouzovsy, Marek Vajo, Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, Petr Vronsky), “Streams” (Matthias Müller, David Taylor, PARMA Orchestra, John Page)
Puchase links: Amazon / iTunes
Sound samples: Streams / Waves / Mouvements
Booklet Text CD Streams
Having written two early works in this genre, Fragment for violin and chamber orchestra (1974-5) and Stratifications for solo trumpet, piano and orchestra (1977-8), Schlumpf produced the piano concerto Mouvements in 1994. It marks one of the first and most important works in a new creative period that began in the 1990s. Since then the defining features of his music have been the influence of minimalism and jazz, new tonal concepts, a strong emphasis on rhythm, and clear-cut formal designs.
Mouvements opens with an escalation lasting a good five minutes, a distant recollection of Ravel’s Bolero (section A). Its basic skeleton is formed from the repetition of a four-bar marimba figure. On this solid foundation the solo piano and other orchestral instruments develop their own contrasting melodies until, after twenty-five repetitions of the marimba pattern, the soloist slips into the pattern himself and the section ends in a frenzied tutti.
The concluding section D takes up the same head motif to bracket the overall form. Now, however, the motif is given to various solo instruments and tempos and superimposed in a delicate minimalist texture with a solo piano, which is integrated in the orchestra as a high-register splash of colour.
In section B the piano takes on something akin to the role of a (jazz) singer in very calm surroundings with solo hues. A percussion transition leads to section C, where clearly defined blocks of sound collide in varied succession. Here the whip functions as a sort of referee, the piano constantly intrudes, and finally the full tension dissolves in a virtuoso cadenza for the piano.
Waves, a cello concerto composed in 2002, is Schlumpf’s first work to use computer-generated sounds. They mingle with the solo cello, an obligato trumpet functioning somewhat like a secondary soloist, and a string orchestra. The computer-generated sounds, which Schlumpf created in his own home studio, mainly make use of instruments from ethnic musics: wind, plucked, and especially percussion instruments from Africa and Asia. When performed in concert, these computer-generated sounds are spread three-dimensionally around the audience using the so-called ambisonics procedure, making the musical structures vividly audible.
The use of the computer leads to new musical possibilities in yet another dimension: unlimited in its application of polyrhythmic structures, controlled by click tracks for the conductor and trumpeter, it gives rise to musical expanses in which the instruments play simultaneously on different temporal levels without losing contact with each other.
The result is a concerto with a highly distinctive rhythmic and timbral language, a multi-tiered dialogue between the cello, trumpet, orchestra and computer, and a formal design in which a largely improvised cello cadenza and a song-like ending particularly stand out.
The most recent of the concertos on this CD, Streams for clarinet, bass trombone and 17 instruments (2010), is dedicated to Matthias Müller and David Taylor. Schlumpf originally intended it to be a clarinet concerto for his friend Müller, but in late 2009 he altered the scoring after Müller, then in New York, told him excitedly about a phenomenal bass trombone player he had recently met: Taylor. Schlumpf had already played with Taylor in European bands during the 1980s, and he decided to write a double concerto for his two friends.
Two other special features of this concerto resulted from the fact that Schlumpf was well-acquainted with the two soloists:
The first involves the handling of the cadenza (sections D and E). As the two soloists are experienced improvisers, Schlumpf decided to insert a long passage of improvisation controlled by verbal instructions and unfolding above orchestral inserts, some in free rhythm, others precisely written out. Consequently, in these two sections the performance of the solo part on our CD is definitive only for the moment of the recording session.
Secondly, Schlumpf was inspired by the fascinating interpretation of Schubert’s song Der Doppelgänger, in David Taylor’s arrangement, to adopt crucial elements from this song in a long concluding farewell (section G). Another reason was that Der Doppelgänger, being a quintessentially modern song in Schubert’s oeuvre, has taken on quite special status in Schlumpf’s analysis classes at the university. This is by no means an arrangement of Schubert’s song, but a wholly independent piece of music that places selected elements of the original in an entirely new context.
The sound-world of Streams offers rhythmic fireworks, fine-spun motivic tissues, explosive melodies, rich harmonic colours, exquisite instrumentation, exciting grooves, a deep plunge into the abyss, iridescent pulsation, painful rebellion, moments of light – in short, the full panoply of a richly equipped imaginary theatre.