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Chaya CZERNOWIN (b.1957)
Adiantum Capillus-Veneris (Maidenhair Fern)
Etudes in Fragility for voice and breath (amplified) [27:31]
HIDDEN for string quartet and electronics [43:16]
Inbal Hever (mezzo-soprano)
Jack Quartet:
Christopher Otto, Ari Streisfeld (violins),
John Pickford Richards (viola)'
Kevin McFarland (cello)
rec. April 2016, Rahmen des Forum neuer Musik 2016, 
'Jüdische Identitäten' Deutschlandfunks Kammermusiksaal, Köln
First recordings
Reviewed in CD Stereo
WERGO WER73552 SACD [70:55]

Chaya Czernowin was born in Haifa, Israel in 1957, and studied music at the Rubin Academy, part of the University of Tel Aviv. Further studies in Germany were followed by a move to the States to put the finishing touches to her musical education. Since then she has done some travelling, including a period spent in Japan. Her life now consists of teaching and composing; she is based in the USA. Her compositions include opera, orchestral music, chamber music, keyboard and vocal works. Although this is the first time I’ve encountered her music, there are several CDs available featuring her compositions.

Czernowin’s free-thinking musical style is both unique and autonomous. Her focus is on sound experience, which she explores with rhythm and colour. Listening to these two works, I felt a sense of improvisation, with music being created spontaneously on the wing. Her compositional arsenal embraces overtones, micro-tonality and glissandi. She sometimes uses electronics. Silence also plays an important role. It all makes for a challenging experience, but my dogged perseverance paid off in the end and, once the surface had been penetrated, I found much to savour. She, herself, would be the first person to admit that her music is far from an easy listen: “I'm not interested in composing music that entertains, is pleasing, or that sweetens our days. There are lots of wonderful works that accomplish that - better than I ever could”. So, her music is all about space and gesture in a spontaneous medium, where gestures come into focus and then fade into the background.

Inbal Hever, with the backing of prerecorded material, is the excellent mezzo-soprano vocalist in the Adiantum Capillus-Veneris (Maidenhair Fern) – 3 Etudes in Fragility for voice and breath (amplified). No. 1 is the most subdued, with a solitary voice conveying loneliness and isolation. You hear the wind rush, but great play is made of silences which create tension and suspense. The vocal brushstrokes have greater urgency in No. 2. It’s as if they are painting a landscape. The interjections are more percussive and staccato. Use is made of more pre-recorded material in No. 3. The voice and breath are treated as two separate entities, with the latter having “a quasi-contrapuntal relationship to the voice”. The impression is of several voices at play.

Hidden, from which the album takes its title, is Czernowin’s quartet for strings and electronics. It’s a continuous 43-minute movement. As the title suggests, it deals with things unseen, concealed in the recesses and only perceived as showy intimations. It incorporates sound projected from strategically placed loudspeakers and a string quartet. At some points, the listener is coaxed into believing they are listening to noises emanating from a large cave. The panoply of sound effects is at times thrilling, with rustling, crackling, murmuring and throbbing. There’s even water running. These range from the barely audible to violent outbursts of coruscating sound. Roughly divided into three sections, the music builds up over the course from slow breathing to a shattering climax. The Jack Quartet deliver a compelling reading.

The excellent, informative annotations, in English and German, supply helpful context. The sound is first rate, of demonstration quality. The participating artists are perfectly balanced in the mix. I thoroughly enjoyed this recording, and it certainly opened up new horizons for me. It’s given me the incentive to explore more of this composer's fascinating music. 

Stephen Greenbank



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