Shifting Gravity, Winter Songs III
Quatuor Diotima, Ensemble Nikel, ascolta, ensemble courage
I’ve been in love with this CD pretty much since I received a copy of it a few weeks ago, but I’ve been putting writing about it in case I kill the magic off.
But here I am. Czernowin’s music – here represented well by Winter Songs III for ten instruments and electronics, and the cycle of chamber pieces Shifting Gravity (comprising Anea Crystal: Seed 1, Sahaf, Anea Crystal: Anea, Sheva and Anea Crystal: Seed II) – is some of the strongest being written at the moment. Timbrally, gesturally and structurally unpredictable, even gauche (the saxophone, electric guitar, percussion and piano ensemble of Sahaf simply shouldn’t work; even less when sandwiched between two relatively straightforward string quartet pieces) it is also heartbreakingly vulnerable. Its sounds – often rasping, grating bundles of energy – project across impossibly large spaces, like concrete cantilevers, precisely tensioned just short of breaking point. Listening is like discovering butterflies trapped under stones.
Czernowin is not badly represented on CD elsewhere – interested parties will want to follow up with this CD of earlier chamber works on Mode (Mode have posted Afatsim from that CD to YouTube) and especially this recording of Shu Hai Practices Javelin and Six Miniatures and a Simultaneous Song, featuring Ute Wassermann on voice. Mode have also released Maim for 5 soloists, orchestra and electronics; I only know this CD through this YouTube video. However, Shifting Gravity is, for my money, the best route into Czernowin’s strange and beautiful world: the pieces are compelling and quickly legible, and the performances absolutely top drawer.
All of the playing is excellent, but particular commendation must go to Ensemble Nikel for negotiating the vertiginous peaks and troughs of Sahaf, and to ensemble courage who transform the empty rattles and scrapes in the first section of Winter Songs III into the only thing you want to hear.
P.S. Coincidentally, a video interview with Czernowin was posted yesterday to NewMusicBox – the video also includes a clip of Anea Crystal: Seed I performed by Either/Or as well as extracts from other pieces. Have a look.