CD Review: Aleksander Szram: Into the 21st Century (Fonorum)

Aleksander Szram‘s debut CD includes works by a couple of composers — Dai Fujikura and Haris Kittos — who are part of the BMIC’s New/Contemporary Voices scheme. This is quite handy because it means that I can get hold of the odd score extract while listening to the music. I’d listened to Into the 21st Century several times on my MP3 player, and a few more over my tinny laptop speakers before I gave the scores a look. I was quite taken back by the amount of attention to overtones and resonance Kittos builds into his pieces, so I gave them another listen, carefully this time, and sure enough Szram has brought it all out with some real delicacy. There’s a lesson in that.

This is a restrained CD, with lots of white space given only the slightest instrumental colour. On a first listen it may just strike you as a pretty collection of late-modern impressionism. But interesting things occur when the best pieces here start to reveal themselves as dwelling as much in the after-effects as in the attacks of traditional piano music. Spencer’s The Eemis Stane comes with the most explicit imagery, recalling a Hugh MacDiarmid poem in which a future dead Earth is covered by the lichen of time and the fog of history. Drawing on Lachenmann’s example, Spencer buries a “familiar aural landscape” of ascending scales and arpeggios beneath extensions to performance technique that disrupt the musical flow and draw attention to what lies under the surface or in the periphery. It is chillingly effective.

Programming this, the most striking piece on the CD, towards the end only sends you back to the beginning to listen out for more of the same. And with attention it is there: Fujikura’s Echo Within establishes a neat dialogue between attack and reverberation, one skipping lightly off the other; Kittos’s Athrós occupies a more hierarchical musical space, with attack and echo working heterophonically alongside each other. This is a very rewarding disc — carefully recorded — that deserves many repeated listenings and that offers something to listeners coming at it from many stylistic perspectives.

Tracks:

Dai Fujikura: Echo Within
Basil Athanasiadis: Anamnisis
Haris Kittos: Atropo
Michael Spencer: The Eemis Stane
Dai Fujikura: Sleeping Ashes
Haris Kittos: Athros

Available at emusic, iTunes and Fonorum.

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