BERMEL: Dust Dances. Thracian Echoes. Elixir. Voices, for Solo Clarinet and Orchestra.
Derek Bermel, clarinet; Boston Modern Orchestra Project/Gil Rose, cond.
BMOP SACD 1008 TT: 54:54

HOLMREN: Plateaux Pour Piano Et Orchestre. For Piano.
Juho Pohjonen, pianist/Danish National Symphony Orch/Ed Spanjaard, cond.
DACAPO SACD 6.220533 TT: 59:53

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 5 in B flat
Philharmonia Orch/Benjamin Zander, cond.
TELARC SACD 60706 (2 disks) TT: 68:58 (symphony) 79:56 (discussion)

The enterprising new label BMOP has another winner in their disk of music of clarinetist, composer and jazz/rock musician Derek Bermel . The four works show his interest in various folk influences (including Bulgarian folk music), jazz and depicting the human voice instrumentally. Dust Dances resulted from a 4 month visit to Northwest Ghana where Bermel learned to play the Dargara gyil, a 14-key xylophone related to the marimba; in this 9-minute work he attempts to turn the symphony orchestra into a gigantic gyil. The 20-minute Thracian Echoes , is a melding of Bulgarian choral songs with rhythmic energy of orchestral music, combining the mournful and the manic. Elixir, the shortest piece on this CD (7:21) was written at the request of John Adams, and is scored for orchestra with two harps and theremin. The major work here is Voices, actually a clarinet concerto that had its premiere in 1998 with the composer as soloist. There are three movements: Id, She Moved Thru the Fair, and Jamm On Toast. It is a wild work, jazzy and vividly orchestrated—and it must be incredibly difficult to play. This is challenging, worthy music, and the splendid performances have been very well recorded. About eight years ago, Bermel had a brief residency at the American Academy in Rome. One of his works (Spider Love) is included in the recent Bridge Records Americans in Romeset mentioned on this site (REVIEW).

DaCapo continues to issue music by Danish composer Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgren (b. 1932). Several months ago this site mentioned the SACD release of three of his works: Concerto Grosso for String Quartet and symphonic ensemble, Moving Still for baritone and string quartet, and Last Ground for string quartet and ocean (REVIEW). In that review the comment was made that this disk included some of the ugliest sounds you'll ever hear emanating from musical instruments," and the same applies to this second SACD. Plateaux for Piano and Orchestra, written in 2006, has nine movements ("plateaux"), and is a 38-minute ordeal (for most listeners) often savage with quiet pianistic doodling between orchestral outbursts. The 22-minute For Piano dates from 1992, and has three movements: Sound and Silence, Lullaby, and Keep Going (Little Bird, Blue). Gudmundsen-Holmgren is considered by some to be one of the leading composers of the past half-century. Carl Nielsen and Rued Langgaard must be turning over in their graves.

Benjamin Zander's new recording of Bruckner's Symphony No. 5 is magnificent! This conductor has made many superlative recordings of Mahler symphonies (will the series ever be completed?). Here he turns his attention to Bruckner and the result is among the finest recordings ever made of the mighty Symphony No. 5. Everything is right, pacing is perfect, and the orchestra is in top form. Recorded January 8-10, 2008 in London's Watford Coliseum, the producers were Elaine Martone and David St. George, with Robert Fredrich as engineer. They did their work to perfection. The sound is full, rich and incredibly detailed. The personnel list for the Philharmonia shows only 5 horns, 4 trumpets, 2 trombones, bass trombone and tuba, so it seems that extra brass (as used by Eugen Jochum in his Concertgebouw recording) was not used. However, as recorded here, the fantastic brass peroration at the conclusion of the final movement is thrilling. And Zander is a master teacher, evidenced by his informative discussion of the symphony, profusely illustrated with musical examples. This is a major release for serious collectors.

R.E.B. (April 2009)