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Beat FURRER (b. 1954)
Works for Choir and Ensemble

enigmas I–VI for mixed choir a cappella [32:08]
voicesstill for mixed choir and ensemble [13:19]
cold and calm and moving for flute, harp, violin, viola and cello [20:07]
Helsinki Chamber Choir
Uusinta Ensemble/Nils Schweckendiek
rec. 2014, Sellosali, Espoo, Finland

The Swiss-born composer Beat Furrer settled in Austria in 1975, when still in his early twenties, and is now a professor of composition in Graz, a post he's held since 1991. A protégé of Roman Haubenstock-Ramati and Otmar Suitner, he has found his niche in teaching and performing contemporary music as well as composing. He has a particular fascination with the human voice and its potential, and this has informed his compositional trajectory. What is immediately noticeable in the music here is the spectrum of sound achieved by the voice, from barely inaudible sounds such as breath, to speech, song, and progressing to screams. This kaleidoscopic panoply of auditory sensation is expertly and imaginatively harnessed to striking effect in the music featured on this disc.

Furrer turned to the writings of Leonardo da Vinci for his enigmas I-V1. The work in question is Profezie, in which the Italian master ponders everyday subjects such as dreams or metal. The enigmas began with the first in 2006, with the composer building up his collection of six over seven years. Each demands a different configuration of singers with enigma I requiring a choir divided into four equal parts, in II the singers are marshalled into three lines, and V into two separate choirs. enigma I ‘Of Dreaming’ has the voices almost running on the spot, confined to a narrow vocal range. enigma II ‘Of Metals’ contemplates some of the awful uses to which mankind has put metal. It opens with hesitant, low-pitched spoken words, enunciated in irregular rhythms. The overall effect is eerie, reinforced by some strange glissandi. High chords alternate with low ones in enigma III, which returns to the dreaming theme of I. enigma IV contrasts bustling dialogue with luminous stillness. V is the longest at 15 minutes. The two choirs called for offer Furrer much scope for multi-layered textures and endless flights of fancy. In enigma VI, the composer revisits the subject of metals, reworking some of the text of II.

voices – still had an interesting gestation. It started life as still in 1998, scored for an ensemble of fourteen players. In 2000, for a Salzburg performance, he added a twelve part choral section - thus, voices – still came about. In its third incarnation this combined choral/instrumental version became a scene in a music-theatre work Begehren (Desire). The text is drawn from Virgil's Georgics, relating the story of the disappearance of Eurydice after Orpheus disobeyed the gods by looking back at her. Furrer uses multi-layered textures in this ingeniously scored canvas. His violent and, at times, frenzied brush strokes, resemble, for me, a Joan Miró painting in sound. Yet, it is not without its fleeting glimpses of calm.

The choir are given a well-earned rest in the final piece  ...cold and calm and moving for flute, harp, violin, viola and cello. It dates from 1992 and is the earliest composition on the disc. Originally it consisted of loose sheaves of manuscript, with the performers given carte blanche to perform them in any order. Then, rather like Stockhausen in Stimmung, a definitive version emerged where a preferred ordering was established. This is now how Furrer likes it performed. The texture is quite sparse and pared down, with each instrument given its moment. The work is inspired by Petrarch’s sonnet ‘Hor che 'l ciel e la terra e 'l vento tace’ (Now that heaven and earth and the wind are silent). As the music unfolds, the listener is drawn into the emotions of the poet’s love-sick world.

The Helsinki Chamber Choir's immaculate ensemble, well-enunciated diction and rhythmic acuity, under the inspirational direction of Nils Schweckendiek all add up to a winning combination. The Uusinta Ensemble’s alert playing and profound musicianship are convincing and compelling. Schweckendiek’s booklet contribution is informative and successfully fills in the background. All are first recordings except for ...cold and calm and moving. Well-recorded, these adventurous scores are showcased at their very best.

Stephen Greenbank



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