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Malstrom; Voynich Cipher Manuscripts; Parts

Artist: Hanspeter Kyburz
Hanspeter Kyburz - Malstrom; Voynich Cipher Manuscripts; Parts CD
Label: Kairos
Regular Price: $17.95
On Sale For: $8.98 
Year: 2003
Format: CD


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The enterprising Kairos label has made something of a speciality of recording works by talented young Eurpoean modernist composers who are on the verge of a major career. This disc takes up the cudgels on behalf of the Swiss composer Hanspeter Kyburz, born in 1960 and now a regular at European new music festivals. Included on it are three works for varied ensembles: Malstrom, a 1998 concerto for large orchestra, The Voynich Cipher Manuscript, a 1995 setting of varied texts for mixed chorus and chamber orchestra, and Parts, a 1994 work for chamber orchestra.

Malstrom created something of a minor sensation at its Donaueschingen premiere in 1998, with its vigorous, complex orchestral counterpoint. An energetic single movement lasting just over a quarter of an hour, it was inspired by Edgar Allen Poe's famous short story Descent into the Maelstrom. Accordingly, the music is dark in tone, often biased towards the bass, and ends with a rumbling epilogue for the bass instruments. Stylistically, this dense, highly gestural music strikes me as somewhere between the late-20th century German symphonic tradition (think Hartmann and Henze) and the complex dramatism of Elliott Carter's 1960s and 1970s works. I found it distinctly compelling.

Equally effective is The Voynich Cipher Manuscript, a setting of passages from as as yet undeciphered secret script. (Kyburz adds to this script readings of three brief poems by Velimir Chlebnikov, which appear at three structurally significant points of the work.) The music is in something of an arch form, with outer sections in which the instrumental writing here is less driven and one-dimensional than in Malstrom, with plenty of space to hear the delicate traceries of pitched percussion that are sometimes swamped in the other work. The central sections are faster and louder, with more complex counterpoint and a preference for the chorus over solo voices.

To my mind, the ensemble piece Parts is less successful. The earliest of the three works on this disc, it explores a variety of sounds and colours in four contrasting movements. Despite many sonically intriguing moments--the shadowy close of the first movement being a prime example--I found it structurally less focused and more diffuse than the other works, and it did not consistently hold my attention in the same way.

The performances, under the contemporary music specialists Hans Zender, Rupert Huber and Peter Rundel, are all one could wish for. In this recording, as with their discs of music by Beat Furrer and Georg Friedrich Haas, Kairos has demonstrated the continuing vitality of one strand of European modernism, and for this service they deserve great credit.

Malstrom, concerto for orchestra
Composed by Hanspeter Kyburz
Performed by SWR-Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
Conducted by Hans Zender

The Voynich Cipher Manuscript, for chorus & ensemble
Composed by Hanspeter Kyburz
with Wien Klangforum
Conducted by Rupert Huber

Parts, for esemble
Composed by Hanspeter Kyburz
with Wien Klangforum
Conducted by Peter Rundel

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