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Alexander GOEHR (b.1932)
When Adam Fell, Op. 89 (2011)* [15:29]
Two Pastorals, Op. 19 (1965)* [16:21]
Marching to Carcassonne, Op. 75 (2002) † [31:16]
Peter Serkin (piano)
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Oliver Knussen* • London Sinfonietta/Oliver Knussen
rec. live, Barbican Hall, London, 13 January 2012 1; BBC Maida Vale Studio 1, London, 5 July 2011; in concert, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 22 May, 2003. DDD
NAXOS 8.573052 [63:06]

Experience Classicsonline

Oliver Knussen (b.1952) is a major and distinctive figure on the international musical landscape both as conductor and as composer. He is a constant across the performance of these three works by fellow traveller, Alexander Goehr. One rarely gets to confirm this but I would expect that what we hear is informed by a fellow composer’s sensitivity to the trust that a creator must repose in the person who conducts newly- minted music.
Berlin-born Alexander Goehr is the son of the conductor and composer Walter Goehr. Walter made recordings of the Tippett Double Concerto, of Bach and later with Mewton-Wood in warhorse concertos. Alexander was brought to England in the early 1930s. His studies were at the Royal Manchester College of Music with Richard Hall alongside Birtwistle, Maxwell Davies and John Ogdon. Later he was a student of Messiaen and Yvonne Loriod.
Goehr’s music is full of lapidary detail and in the case of When Adam Fell has an impressionistic patina – a sort of dissonant Ravel but always with a sense of line and continuity. His music is not immune to romantic emotion. When Adam Fell was composed for the BBC Symphony Orchestra and is dedicated “to Ollie again”. The musing and finely calculated dissonance of When Adam Fell can be discerned only darkly in the Pastorals. This was a South West German Radio, Baden-Baden commission from almost half a century before When Adam Fell. It was premièred at Donaueschingen and conducted by Ernest Bour. Contrary to the implications some may take from the title this work was influenced by the composer’s work on incidental music for Oedipus Rex and Oedipus Coloneus. It’s a tougher and more abrasively forbidding listen than When Adam Fell although the same attention to fine instrumental detail is on show. It’s what you might expect of a work of the rough and tumble 1960s. Do not expect a rustic idyll.
Marching to Carcassonne is in nine separately tracked sections. This is an aural delight with Goehr’s proclivity for filigree assertively to the fore. There is real transparency here and even when the moods are wan and misty the instrumental detail leaps out at you. It is after all a Serenade for piano and 12 instruments. Peter Serkin is a prominent part of this chamber ensemble work that leans more toward magical incident than to large-scale orchestral awe. The little March that keeps reappearing has a determination and sense of purpose. That march opens the work and is written for two horns and string quartet. It recurs as the fifth and eighth movements and appears six times in the course of the long ninth movement final section (…marching to Carcassonne, Labyrinth). At each appearance it is precisely half as long as it had been in its previous version. The impressionistic tendencies of Night (VIII) again underline the milky dissonance of When Adam Fell. It was commissioned by the London Sinfonietta and the Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation and is dedicated to the memory of Serge and Natalie Koussevitzky.
The exemplary liner note is by the composer with a thoughtful complementary essay by Ivan Hewett.
This CD adds invaluably to the far from overcrowded Goehr discography which also includes discs from Lyrita and NMC.

Rob Barnett
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