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<<  -- 4 --  Roderic Dunnett    MUSSORGSKIAN GIANT

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Music for a Puppet Court originated as an arrangement of two puzzle canons by the Tudor composer John Lloyd, to which Knussen added free variations of his own, with a nod, perhaps, to the neo-Baroque treatments of Webern and Stravinsky, and in the Sixties, Birtwistle and Maxwell Davies. '... upon one note' for quintet pays mini-homage to Purcell -- effectively, it has been suggested, a fantasia on a fantasia, with the Purcell original (Fantasia upon one note), particularly the cadences, peering through here and there. His Horn Concerto (1994) was written for Barry Tuckwell.

Oliver Knussen scores (c) Faber Music

Others include the Second and Third Symphonies (l970-1 and l973/9, the former with a high-tessitura soprano solo, superbly recorded on Unicorn-Kanchana by Elaine Barry with the Sinfonietta under the composer), both works of dazzling fertility notable not least for their astonishing woodwind writing, nocturnal allure and breathtaking wide-spacings that are a feature elsewhere of Knussen's works), Ophelia Dances, Songs without Voices (for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, New York), the vibrant orchestral work Coursing, the vivid, ticking, motorized Cantata (for oboe and string trio, recorded by the Nash Enesemble) and the Whitman Settings, written for soprano Lucy Shelton and included in this month's CBSO concerts.

Oliver Knussen: Horn Concerto, Whitman Settings, Way to Castle Yonder, Flourish etc. (c) DG

Of the Whitman Settings, Knussen has said 'these unusually short poems of Walt Whitman ('When I heard the learn'd astronomer', 'A Noiseless Patient Spider', 'The Dalliance of Eagles' and 'The Voice of the Rain', all from Leaves of Grass) attracted me because they deal with grand natural phenomena on small canvases' : just the kind of compression one might think Knussen particularly well-equipped to manage in music. After an aptly bare, Coplandesque opening his wide-spaced broken chordings take on the allure of Schreker (the 'German Debussy') married with the Schoenberg's Das Buch der hängende Gärten and Webern's even subtler Lied output.

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Copyright © 17 November 2001 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK

 

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