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Margaret BROUWER (b. 1940)
Aurolucent Circles1 (2002) [27:07]
Mandala2 (2001) [11:55]
Pulse: a 50th Anniversary Fanfare (2003) [6:05]
Remembrances (1996) [15:00]
SIZZLE (2000) [4:58]
Evelyn Glennie (percussion)1; Kevin Price (trombone)2;
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Gerard Schwarz
rec. 12-14 July 2004, Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool. DDD
NAXOS 8.559250 [65:05]

In the course of a discussion of another CD of Margaret Brouwer’s work, by Paul Ingram (, the composer is quoted as follows: "I think my audience is made up of adventurous and curious people who like to become immersed in a sound world – who love beautiful sounds – who are curious to hear new sounds and new musical ideas – and who are intellectual to the point that they appreciate structure and organisation. People who know the transparency and clarity of traditional classical music as well, since my music grows out of that tradition". She is evidently a composer who understands her own music, because she points here to precisely the interplay between clarity of structure and originality of sound world which seems to characterise her music, on the evidence of this very interesting CD.

Aurolucent Circles is a percussion concerto in three movements, whose titles – ‘Floating in Dark Space’, ‘Stardance’ and ‘Cycles and Currents’ – suggest something of the aural imagery in this highly evocative music. The first movement opens with quiet and distant sounds, percussive whispers and fragments of melody, picks up momentum and ends with urgent bursts of sound. In the second movement there is much use of spatial effects - this excellently recorded CD might have sounded even better in SACD? - as the focal point moves from side to side, from front to back. Circling patterns of sound do, indeed, invoke a kind of cosmic dance. No doubt if one could see Evelyn Glennie as soloist one would be aware of a human dance too. ‘Cycles and Currents’ is a rapid perpetuum mobile, with lots of effective interplay between soloist and orchestra – here as elsewhere Brouwer’s concerto employs not only soloist and entire orchestra, but also two concertino groups, one made up of two flutes, two harps, two percussionists, the solo strings and one trombone, the other made up of five woodwinds. The resulting range of sounds – and ‘voices’ in the musical argument – is considerable. This is subtle, poetic music, full of surprises – but, as on all the best music, the ‘surprises’ seem to have about them a kind of inevitability when one considers them in retrospect. Soloist, orchestra and conductor all deserve the highest praise.

Though she obviously has a ‘pure’ musical intelligence of a high order, Brouwer’s music is also clearly grounded in non-musical inspirations, as the composer’s own very useful notes to this CD make clear. The second work here, Mandala, reflects both Brouwer’s observation of the creation and destruction - with accompanying chanting, blowing of horns etc.- of an intricate sand painting by a group of Tibetan monks, which provides a structural model, and her own family background in the Dutch Reformed Church, which provides a leading melody. The two influences, perhaps surprisingly, are fused in a musically convincing fashion, with Kevin Price a solo trombonist of both power and delicacy. Pulse is a study in rhythm and momentum, building to a texturally rich conclusion. Remembrances, written as a memorial to a friend, incorporates many complex emotions in its fifteen minutes – moving through initial sorrow to affectionate memory and warm emotion before closing in affirmation. This is a lovely, modern tone poem. SIZZLE is another study in rhythm, and again makes use of spatial separation in the deployment of the orchestra. Here a group made up of three trombones and a horn stand in antithesis to the rest of the orchestra. The composer’s notes describe very well the purpose and effect of the division, explaining that the main body of the orchestra represents the frenetic pace of modern life, in music which is "fast-paced, energized, and filled with emphatic and mesmerising rhythms" while the concertino group "explore a deeper current, a psychic cultural connection with the earth, with the ground of being, with a universal flow, with deep space, with the collective unconscious". The music lives up to such claims.

Brouwer, on the evidence of this CD, is a composer of real distinction. Her music is richly textured but it never merely luxuriates in sound; there are clearly articulated structures underpinning her work so that there are rich and significant patterns of sound at both micro and macro levels of the music. The whole is a highly rewarding CD, a collection whose idioms are surely easily accessible to any open-minded listener but which is simultaneously distinctive and personal.

Glyn Pursglove

see also review by Hubert Culot



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