Kampfhandlungen/Traumhandlungen Op.11 (1995, rev. 1998)
Chamber Symphony no.2 Op.23, ‘A végsö Tavasz’ (2009-11)*
*Leslie Leon (soprano); Collegium Novum Zürich / Jonathan Stockhammer
NEOS 11912 [74’43”]
Producer Wulf Weinmann
Engineers Leandro Gianini, *Ueli Würth
Recorded 12 April 2018, TOnhalle Maag, *11-15 February 2019 at Radiostudio, Zurich
Written by Richard Whitehouse
What’s the story?
The always enterprising NEOS label releases a second disc devoted to the music of Jorge E. López (b1955) – a composer who has pointedly reassessed that dislocated juncture between late Romanticism and early Modernism, with little concern for any eventual accommodation.
What’s the music like?
Little heard (if at all) in the UK, López was born in Havana then spent his formative years in New York and Chicago, latterly moving to Austria and residing in Vienna since 2008. Largely self-taught as a composer, he was unknown until Michael Gielen championed his Landscape with Martyrdom (Intercord – hopefully to appear as part of SWR Music’s Gielen Edition), as singular an Op. 1 as any in musical history. Since then he has gradually built up a catalogue of 30 predominantly large-scale works, with increasing emphasis on the symphonic genre.
López has frequently spoken of the importance to his thinking of Surrealism, albeit not as an aesthetic but rather a method of musical construction as intuitive as it is flexible. This is made plain in Kampfhandlungen/Traumhandlungen – a visceral workout for large ensemble which emerges in stages from those elemental, Xenakis-like beginnings toward a more individuated discourse with prominent roles for cor anglais and bass trumpet; the whole piece adhering to that ‘Scenes of Combat/Tissue of Dreams’ interplay as posited by its title. Despite an aura of primal metamorphosis as might recall Birtwistle, López’s expressive range is informed more by evocation of human activity in the way his music proceeds in an often erratic while always fascinating trajectory; one whose denouement is the more conclusive for its unexpectedness.
Hardly the first composer to have embraced symphonic writing belatedly, López has focussed increasingly on the genre (he is currently completing his Fifth). The first two are for chamber forces, the Second taking its subtitle – which translates as The Final Spring – from the late 19th-century Hungarian poet Endre Ady. Should this bring to mind an exercise in ruminative introspection, the music confirms otherwise – its 52 minutes unfolding over five movements that consist of a compressed sonata design, further skewed by cadenzas for piano and horn; a sizeable and disruptive scherzo at length waylaid by (surreal) intimation of children’s songs; a halting and edgy intermezzo periodically arraigned by percussive fusillades; another scherzo that rapidly assumes a Mahlerian façade, where the soprano functions as a constituent of the ensemble in that her singing makes phonetic rather than semantic sense; then a finale whose martial undertow affords recollections of earlier movements (notably the first) as it heads to a conclusion of an inevitability which, not for the first time with López, arises out of nothing.
Does it all work?
It does, once one accepts López is not so much breaking the rules of formal and expressive continuity as refashioning them according to his needs; something Jonathan Stockhammer conveys in gratifying measure through these assured readings by Collegium Novum Zürich.
Is it recommended?
Very much so. The sound could hardly be improved on for clarity or perspective, and there is an informative overview by Jens Schubbe with a more subjective appreciation by Láng Zsolt. NEOS will hopefully be issuing further releases by this fascinating and absorbing composer.
You can listen to clips from the recording and buy this release at the Presto website