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Mozart across Niagara

Peter Hatch's
'Wiki Mozart' -

'... an intoxicating cocktail.'

Canadian Oboe Quartets. © 2009 The Gallery Players of Niagara

It is very refreshing to discover an ensemble dedicated to the commissioning and performance of new works, as opposed to the leading away from pastures green (doubtless well-merited) of the same old warhorses. Four recent Canadian compositions fill this CD.

To quote its (unaccredited) booklet,

'Three of the works, Michael Oesterle's Sunspot Letters, James Rolfe's Oboe Quartet and Pater Hatch's Wiki Mozart, all composed in 2006, were commissioned by the Gallery Players in celebration of the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth. Our request to the composers was to revisit and respond as literally or as figuratively as they chose to Mozart's Oboe Quartet in F Major K370. John Abram's Oboe Quartet, composed in 2002 for the same group of players, was a revisiting and reworking of an earlier piece of his own composition.'

The James Rolfe work introduces this CD of excellent performance. The string playing is illustrated in long runs that are really beautiful and the oboe sound throughout is a delight. This piece gives shadings from a masterfully controlled pianissimo to the loudest forte.

Listen -- James Rolfe: Alla marcia (Oboe Quartet)
(track 1, 1:22-2:02) © 2009 The Gallery Players of Niagara

A beautiful oboe tone in the higher register above pizzicato strings begins the second movement. Colours weave around repeated figures in inspired playing from this excellent ensemble. The last thirty seconds expand like a slow and reverend prayer, which begins almost like the peeling of cathedral bells.

Listen -- James Rolfe: Moderato (Oboe Quartet)
(track 2, 5:16-6:24) © 2009 The Gallery Players of Niagara

Michael Oesterle's Sunspot Letters have a definite Bulgarian folk feel to them in places.

Listen -- Michael Oesterle: Sunspot Letters
(track 3, 1:06-1:46) © 2009 The Gallery Players of Niagara

Interesting string statements are beautifully phrased. This is a work that comes alive in this phrasing. It feels like music for dancing and hints at mediæval Florence in its pulsating rhythmical folk colours. It must be as exciting to play as it is to hear.

Listen -- Michael Oesterle: Sunspot Letters
(track 3, 5:31-5:54) © 2009 The Gallery Players of Niagara

This composition is cleverly conceived in all the parts and all its variations of mood.

If one compares the injustices in the lives of Galileo and Mozart (partly the source of its inspiration, well explained in the accompanying booklet), there is only the slow section to which their individual struggles and burdens of sadness can apply.

Listen -- Michael Oesterle: Sunspot Letters
(track 3, 9:07-9:34) © 2009 The Gallery Players of Niagara

The brilliance of the oboe shines above the inner strife in the strings: a very satisfying work in which, again, all the talented musicians play with skill. The ghosts of Mozart and Galileo fly though the air into space after a moment of grief and emptiness, towards the mystical ending: an open lacework of sound. I found this to be a very moving piece, movingly performed.

John Abram's Oboe Quartet has a beautiful long solo oboe opening followed by a lovely syncopated section with strings.

Listen -- John Abram: Movement I (Oboe Quartet)
(track 4, 1:29-2:17) © 2009 The Gallery Players of Niagara

Imaginative use of all the voices and clever changes of mood are captured excellently by the performers.

Some lovely rocking repeated figures in the strings leave the oboe high above flying free as though unconnected like a bird on the wing. This is hypnotic, minimalistic, repetitive string writing: syncopated and strangely satisfying. The oboe enters with determination and the movement draws towards a logical morendo conclusion with an unaccompanied oboe 'sigh'.

The second movement is a surprise after the conclusion of the first. I felt the quartet was completed within its first movement. It had come to its own ending. Somehow there was nothing left to say: no need to comment further.

The second movement, therefore, felt like another piece. Again, repeated figures, interesting textures, more minimalism, but not the same spell. It felt rather unnecessary. Miniature frames of silence leave the oboe to weave through the repeated figures I personally found monotonous, until a beautiful lively oboe solo, again unaccompanied, entered with a blood transfusion.

The final work on this CD is the introduction to a composer new to me (as were they all) Peter Hatch. What a delight! His Wiki Mozart is enchanting. In the booklet he explains,

'Wikipedia tells us that a "wiki" is a "Web site that allows the visitors themselves to easily add, remove, and otherwise edit and change some available content." Wiki Mozart is an attempt to present a Mozart "event" in a similar spirit. The material for the piece is drawn completely from sampled and already-composed music found on internet sites. I acted as an editor, choosing material that reflected the broad representation of Mozart found on the internet ...
The live oboe quartet is presented as part of a dialogue with the recorded material. Tying this piece together is a recurring statement featuring the voice of Gertrude Stein reading from The Making of Americans remarking on the significance of individuals and their achievements.'

Listen -- Peter Hatch: Wiki Mozart
(track 6, 2:15-3:40) © 2009 The Gallery Players of Niagara

This is one of the most creative, inventive and original works I have heard in some time. When it comes to musique concrète, it has been difficult for many to stifle yawns and even snores at the Holy Grail of Donnaüeschingen's Festival of Contemporary Music (and others similar). I once actually sat immediately behind Stockhausen, who was covering both ears with his hands against the infernal din concocted by a less than glorious inventor (stuck in the concrete mixer). Many stared at ceilings and walls and watched the chairs emptying with longing.

Here is present proof of the reason why it was all such a good idea in the first place. Maderna, Berio/Berberian and Cage put a lot of work into the reinforced concrete foundations and it's good to know that inside the right imagination musique concrète thrives still. Humour -- not pompousness and intellectualism -- needs to shine through. Here it does, and so inventively! The brush strokes of Mozart's music and the brilliance of Peter Hatch's mind's eye are an intoxicating cocktail.

This is very clever, very amusing, very well conceived as well as performed. There is just the right degree of reverence for Mozart and imaginative brilliance from Hatch -- a pilot in his cockpit flying through time. Brilliant!

The film character Mozart's hysterical laugh from Milos Forman's Amadeus comes in towards the end of the collage -- a brief appearance as if to give a wink before the work draws to a conclusion with Gertrude Stein.

It is as impossible to translate poetry as it is to translate music.
-- François-Marie Arouet Voltaire (1694-1778), French Enlightenment writer, essayist, philosopher and wit.

Perhaps, in the strict sense, but Peter Hatch gets pretty damn close!

Copyright © 21 September 2009 Jennifer I Paull,
Vouvry, Switzerland











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