Switched On – Lindstrøm: On A Clear Day I Can See You Forever (Smalltown Supersound)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Just the four tracks for Lindstrøm‘s sixth album, in which he makes an album from hardware instead of computer plug-ins for the very first time. His inspirations behind the release range from Barbra Streisand – whose musical On A Clear Day You Can See Forever inspires the title – to Robert Wyatt, whose solo albums, capped by Matching Mole, made an impact for their freedom and fearless approach.

The raw material for On A Clear Day is drawn from the autumn of 2018 and a piece Lindstrøm was commissioned to write by the Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, a museum near Oslo. He gave three performances at the arts centre, and the sketches he composed formed the basis of this album, which is almost completely without beats.

What’s the music like?

Free as a bird, as Lindstrøm implied it would be, with each of the four minute tracks clocking in around the 10-minute mark.

The title track has no percussion at all, so the sonorous keyboard tones are free to work at their own pace in a sprawling structure that brings the music towards Jean Michel Jarre at times, while retaining Lindstrøm’s own distinctive language. Often it is composed of just one line, thoughts passed to the listener in musical sentences that have a similar rhythm to everyday conversations.

Really Deep Snow continues the hypnotic effect established in the title track, but more on the front immediately, bubbling synths leading and a kick drum that sounds ready to cut in but not quite. With a wobbly organ contribution and some lovely held string pads it is a stronger track.

The brilliantly named Swing Low Sweet LFO is next, the free bird analogy especially evident here as the glittering synthesizer figures soar and swoop over a weightless texture. Freedom is most definitely the name of the game here, even when a solemn chorale-like figure takes over towards the end.

Finally As If No One Is Here introduces ticking percussion, which creates a surprising amount of tension that is released by stealth into meandering lower range thoughts.

Does it all work?

Yes, as long as the listener bears in mind that this is music for the backdrop of a culture centre. It is much less driven than Lindstrøm’s work with beats, but the freedom apparent throughout the album is contagious and far reaching. As ambient music it fulfills its function easily.

Is it recommended?

It is, though with a concession to Lindstrøm fans that On A Clear Day I Can See You Forever does not contain any of the producer’s barnstorming modern disco numbers.

For now that is the style of music he is best known and loved for, and there are a few moments on this album where the listener inevitably pines for a new piece of beat-infused brilliance.

Instead, On A Clear Day I Can See You Forever uplifts and calms the mind in a more subtle way, and makes us anticipate his next move even more keenly.

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Wigmore Mondays – The Cardinall’s Musick / Andrew Carwood: The Gunpowder plot

The Cardinall’s Musick (above) / Andrew Carwood (below)

Wigmore Hall, Monday 4 November 2019 (lunchtime)

You can listen to this concert on the BBC Sounds app here (opens in a new window)

Review and guide by Ben Hogwood

The year is 2420. London’s concert hall in the City is celebrating its 200th anniversary with a concert of music devoted to Brexit. There are songs and instrumental pieces looking to recreate the chaos of the time.

Sound fanciful? Not entirely – especially when you cast an eye over this fascinating concert from the Cardinall’s Musick and Andrew Carwood, which was all about the attempt to end the reign of King James I by Guy Fawkes and his associates in 1605.

Carwood assembled an intriguing programme of music from well-known composers of the day – Gibbons, Byrd, Tomkins and Weelkes – and those not so well known in Thomas Greaves, John Hilton, Michael East and Richard Allison. The ensemble performed groups of sacred and secular music from the time by the composers, ranging from big eight-part masterpieces by Byrd and Gibbons to miniature odes to tobacco from Michael East.

There were some unexpectedly poignant moments as the concert progressed, and funny ones too, but the group began with one of the best-known anthems from the era in Orlando GibbonsO clap your hands (2:20). The interweaving parts were beautifully realised under Carwood’s clear direction.

The conductor (above) then gave the first of several informative and entertaining guides to both the historical period and the repertoire. Thomas Greaves’ five-part welcome song in honour of James, England receive the rightful king (9:55) led to Thomas Tomkins’ thoughtful O God, the proud are risen against me (11:59). Written in eight parts, this was a barely concealed railing against the leaders of the plot to overthrow the king and government, with some spicy dissonances clearly inflected by the sopranos.
John Hilton’s As there be three blue beans (15:39) was unexpectedly mischievous, a three-part round brilliantly sung by altos Patrick Craig and David Gould, and tenor Benjamin Durrant. It finished by marking the existence of three universities in England – Cambridge, Oxford and James.

Also in this group was William Byrd’s majestic The eagle’s force (17:44), which benefited from the clarity of the altos’ singing, and Michael East’s ode O metaphysical tobacco (20:07). King James I hated tobacco – and eventually had its ambassador Sir Walter Raleigh executed to appease Spain – but many in society loved this new discovery (as they do 415 years on!) There was no evidence of gravelly voices in this performance!

A piece of really impressive heft followed, Byrd’s anthem Deus venerunt gentes (24:03), described by Carwood as ‘symphonic’. A setting of Psalm 78, it is said to be the psalm martyrs would say on their approach to death, to receive forgiveness – and was used by the composer here as a lament for his fellow composer Thomas Campion. By nature it is a serious piece, and its stately progression was ideally paced by the group here, offering time for reflection during its 13 minutes. The lower registers of Byrd’s writing, especially around the 30:25 mark, were immaculately observed and set the downbeat mood, which followed the text impeccably.


King James I

The next selection of music looked at England in the aftermath of the Guy Fawkes plot. After another helpful introduction from Carwood we heard a prayer for the posterity of the king, Richard Allison’s O Lord bow down, a reverential number (39:37), followed by Thomas Tomkins’ request to the Lord for protection, The hills stand about Jerusalem (43:43), where the two sopranos and tenor dovetailed exquisitely. Following the same theme, Thomas Weelkes’ sobering O Lord God Almighty had explicit mentions for the royal family and their security (46:08), once again showing how little has changed in the preceding 400 years.

Finally another great Byrd piece in the shape of the eight-part wonder Ad Dominum cum tribularer (50:36), one with a stark message not just for the country post-gunpowder plot but for the world today: “I speak peace to them and they clamour for war”. A setting of Psalm 120, it is unsurprisingly a work of sombre beginnings, with a couple of spicy dissonances, but it grew in strength and conviction in this performance, which was ideally paced and realised.

Repertoire

The Cardinall’s Musick are the following singers, conducted by Andrew Carwood:

Laura Oldfield, Cecilia Osmond (sopranos), Patrick Craig, David Gould (altos), Benjamin Durrant, Nicholas Todd (tenors), Robert Evans, James Birchall (basses)

This concert contained the following music (with timings on the BBC Sounds broadcast in brackets):

Gibbons O clap your hands (2:20)
Greaves England receive the rightful king (9:55)
Tomkins O God, the proud are risen against me (11:59)
Hilton As there be three blue beans (15:39)
Byrd The eagle’s force (17:44)
East O metaphysical tobacco (20:07)
Byrd Deus venerunt gentes (24:03)
Allison O Lord bow down (39:37)
Tomkins The hills stand about Jerusalem (43:43)
Weelkes O Lord God Almighty (46:08)
Byrd Ad Dominum cum tribularer (50:36)

Further listening

Unfortunately some of the music heard in this concert is not available on Spotify, but the below playlist contains the music that could be found in available versions:

The Cardinall’s Musick have made a number of highly acclaimed recordings of the music of William Byrd. Two are available to hear on Spotify, recorded in the 1990s for the ASV label and featuring the eight part works heard in the concert. They are the Cantiones Sacrae

…and the Propers for the Nativity

On a completely different tip is this playlist of music suitable for fireworks! It includes works by Stravinsky and Debussy, but begins with the perennial Handel favourite Music for the Royal Fireworks, conducted by the recently departed Raymond Leppard:

Switched On – A Winged Victory For The Sullen: The Undivided Five (Ninja Tune)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The Undivided Five marks a key point in the album career of A Winged Victory For The Sullen. The duo, Dustin O’Halloran and Adam Wiltzie, already had impressive musical CVs before uniting as a group eight years ago, O’Halloran with his solo work and Wiltzie both in a solo capacity and as one half of acclaimed instrumental duo Stars Of The Lid.

Since their inception AWVFTS, as they can also be known, have grown a reputation for intense instrumental music and atmospheric live shows. Their late-night Prom with Nils Frahm in 2015 drew admiration, while their soundtrack work for Iris and God’s Own Country has shown their suitability for the big screen.

The Undivided Five, however, is their first ‘artist only’ album since the Atomos album of 2014, and marks the start of a new chapter at Ninja Tune. The number ‘five’ is significant – it represents a circle of five women of which a recently deceased friend was a member. It also resonates with the significance to the duo of their key musical interval, the perfect fifth.

What’s the music like?

Subtly powerful. From the very first strains of Our Lord Debussy it is clear this is an extremely meaningful album to the pair. One of its themes is different strains of ‘goodbye’ – Keep It Dark, Deutschland for O’Halloran’s time in Berlin, as he moves to Iceland – then Adios, Florida, which would appear to be more relevant to Wiltzie and his location in Brussels, then Aqualung, Motherfucker, a tribute to their recently passed close friend.

Loss is a factor in this music, the duo also unexpectedly losing a close friend in the Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson last year. Perhaps because of this there is a barely concealed tension running through the music, which breaks cover at times but essentially powers the slow, strong and meaningful chord progressions.

The ability of the pair to make a great deal of substance from the most innocuous of musical cells is deeply impressive, and is very carefully thought through. Colour is very important to the music, but so is space, each track having presence in its outer frequencies but leaving plenty of space in the middle for the listener.

Our Lord Debussy is superb, growing slowly but surely from its elegant piano cell, the piano itself driving a chant-like piece of music as it mirrors the composer Debussy’s ability to replace melody with harmony. It is briefly reminiscent of some of the soundtrack work of Thomas Newman in its ability to slow time and space, creating a distinct sound world, but the development of the music is too individual for those comparisons to stay.

Two compositions stand out for their instrumental solos – The Slow Descent Has Begun, with a solemn violin solo, and Aqualung, Motherfucker, with a deeply poignant line for horn. This pair form the centrepiece of the album, with the following A Minor Fifth Is Made Of Phantoms offering a little resolve in its organ-like timbres.

The album’s stately progress continues with Adios, Florida, which falls over the edge in heartbreaking fashion at its end, and The Rhythm Of A Dividing Pair, a more consonant and peaceful work. Keep It Dark, Deutschland finds O’Halloran in consoling mood at the piano.

Does it all work?

Yes. This must have been a difficult album to make for O’Halloran and Wiltzie, but – as their band name implies – this is a band that galvanizes great strength from adversity. They do so here in music of rarefied atmosphere and latent power.

Is it recommended?

Yes. The Undivided Five takes their output up a level, expanding its possibilities and giving notice that A Winged Victory For The Sullen are getting better and better. This is their most effective and meaningful album to date, but the signs are it won’t be long until they go even further and better.

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Switched On – Erland Cooper & Leo Abrahams: Seachange (Phases)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Seachange is the ambient companion to Erland Cooper’s second solo album Sule Skerry. It continues Cooper’s celebration of the raw elements of his Orkney origins, the second of a pair based on the open sea. Behind both albums, and their ambient companions, sit Cooper’s long-standing desire to present Orkney in sonic form, preserving the island’s essential parts to be with him when he is working in the city. Initially these musical thoughts were for private use, but have proved incredibly successful when shared with friends and the listening public.

Seachange is split into three ‘Tides’ but runs as one whole, featuring the guitar work and studio craft of Leo Abrahams. Cooper imagines the music ‘pulled apart by placing recyclable source material into the North Sea and watching it become torn, pulled apart, diluted, stretched, weathered and then reassembled in Orkney Geo’ (the inlet between Orkney and Shetland). ‘It creates a different form, with dissolved and overlapping melodies that eventually disappear into granules like plankton’.

What’s the music like?

The intricacies of Abrahams’ guitar are the perfect foil for Cooper’s ambient workings, giving the music an appropriate perspective to represent the vast North Sea. In the foreground the woozy atmospherics are distorted by wind and spray, yet all the while more expansive drones reveal the wide open spaces as the eye looks further.

Seachange works best on headphones, where its details can be fully appreciated, or on a big system where the depth of the bass gives real depth. There is a deeply personal, awestruck appreciation of the sea, made real through music and complemented with Abrahams’ ever-thoughtful nudges and deft musical phrases.

Those familiar with the wonderful Sule Skerry album will recognise these phrases and appreciate the journey they have been on, with bird-like sounds and the ebb and flow of rippling textures all contributing to the movement of water both close at hand in the inlets and on the vast, open sea.

Does it all work?

Very much so. As with Solan Goose, his first album, Cooper has complemented the main release with an ambient companion allowing time for deeper reflection and peace of mind. In celebrating the elements it is a subtle way of pointing us away from busy urban lives and out to the beauty of nature.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Seachange is a reminder of just how small us listeners are when set in such a vast natural expanse, a reminder not to get too far ahead of ourselves and too absorbed in technology or man-made phenomena. The sheer beauty of nature will always trump that.

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You can stream Sea Change on Apple music here

Live review – Renaud Capuçon, CBSO / Anja Bihlmaier: Dvořák, Ravel, Chausson & Bizet

Renaud Capuçon (violin), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Anja Bihlmaier

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Wednesday 30 October 2019 (2.15pm)

Bizet arr. Hoffman Carmen Suite no.2 (1887)
Chausson Poeme Op.25 (1896)
Ravel Tzigane (1924)
Dvořák Symphony no.7 in D minor Op.70 (1885)

Written by Richard Whitehouse

This afternoon concert by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra brought a welcome appearance from German conductor Anja Bihlmaier, presiding over an unlikely yet appealing programme as juxtaposed French and Russian music of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Bizet‘s Carmen has maintained its hold on the operatic repertoire such that individual items are seldom encountered in concert other than as encores. As arranged by Fritz Hoffmann, this Second Suite astutely alternates entr’actes with vocal numbers. Thus the purposeful Marche des contrebandiers (akin to an offcut from Elgar’s Wand of Youth) precedes the smouldering Habanera, then a Nocturne which is Micaela’s third act aria with its vocal line transferred to violin and soulfully rendered by guest leader Tamas Kocsis. That of the evergreen Chanson du toreador is similarly heard on trumpet, which instrument is duly partnered by flutes in the infectious La garde montante, before wind instruments variously come to the fore during the Danse boheme which rounded off the present selection in appropriately exhilarating fashion.

Renaud Capuçon then joined the orchestra for an unlikely coupling of concertante pieces that is highly effective in concert. It may have been inspired by a Turgenev story, but Chausson‘s Poème is an autonomous entity whose rhapsodic impulses are balanced by formal rigour and an organic evolution as elides between the introspective and ecstatic – a trajectory conveyed with due eloquence by Capuçon, his fastidious tonal shading deftly reinforced by Bihlmaier’s nuanced direction. What is so often an elusive work left a powerful and enduring impression.

As, albeit in its rather more demonstrative way, did Ravel‘s Tzigane. Effectively the result of a bet with violinist Jelly d’Aranyi that this composer could come up with a rhapsody inspired by Hungarian gypsy music, the piece wears its Lisztian antecedents lightly while pointing the way toward the similarly conceived rhapsodies of Bartók. Capuçon teased out the high-drama of its unaccompanied initial section, then – with harpist Alma Klemm – made a breath-taking transition into its heady medley of gypsy-inflected themes prior to the rousing final flourish.

After the interval, Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony came almost as a corrective in its seriousness of purpose and powerful formal logic. Bihlmaier directed a performance as left no doubt as to such qualities, at its best in a thoughtful while never staid account of the slow movement – its brief yet elated climax ideally judged – then a scherzo whose underlying furiant rhythm was suffused with Brahmsian trenchancy (one reason this piece displeased the anti-Dvořák faction decades hence). Not that there was much lacking with the outer movements, though the coda of the initial Allegro was a little too deadpan for its ominousness fully to register, and that of the finale felt too reined-in emotionally; those granitic cadential chords marginally failing to clinch what is surely the most fatalistic of any major-key ending in the symphonic repertoire.

Even so, this was a finely realized account of a work as can all too often misfire. Bihlmaier will hopefully return before long: next week, the CBSO’s principal guest conductor Kazuki Yamada directs a performance of Mendelssohn‘s Elijah, premiered in this city 173 years ago.