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Reviews: Nordheim - Cikada Duo

Reviews: 4

Site review by ramesh May 29, 2007
Performance:   Sonics:  
This excellent SACD, with the Telarc-like warning on the back : 'EXTREME SURROUND SOUND!' is one of the bare handful dealing with contemporary classical music. Such is the excellence of the production, and the diversity of the compositions, that after playing this SACD ten times, I can say that it rewards further listening. It would interest some who would not necessarily be attracted to modern classical music, such as fans of rock, or more exotic fusion music.

The disc comprises four works, composed for synthesizer, taped electronics and a vast array of percussion. Two of the works are also for soprano voice. According to the liner notes, the Norwegian composer Arne Nordheim is a well-known figure in Nordic avant-garde music, although I had never heard of him until this disc. Born in 1931, he is consequently of the same avant garde generation as Stockhausen [ born 1928 ], but younger than Xenakis [ born 1922 ]. Apparently, he started out in the 1950s with acoustic orchestral compositions, before turning to electro-acoustic music in the 1960s. It would appear that the four works presented have either been composed, or adapted for the electro-acoustic medium, since the 1990s.

The 19 minute 'Colorazione' is described in the booklet as, 'The music played by the performers is continuously recorded and played back through loudspeakers with a 15 second delay, sometimes after having been passed through a ring modulator and thereby distorted. We are thus interacting with our own past... Colorazione is graphically notated; that is, the music is in the form of drawings which show the overall form of the work. The only exception is a brief melody which can be heard after 6 minutes and 30 seconds. The original version of the piece was scored for Hammond organ, percussion, ring modulator and two tape recorders.' After having attended several concerts of Australasian electro-acoustic music, I can say that this SACD has made a greater impression in terms of compositional quality and exploitation of the medium than any of the live concerts. In large part, concerts of such music, unless fastidiously prepared with high quality replay systems, sound 'bitty', with the taped or synthesised sections stubbornly refusing to integrate with the traditional acoustic elements. In the worst cases, the music stays within the confines of the loudspeakers. Even though I listen only in limited stereo, the way the producer has integrated the electronics and percussion into a seamless soundstage is spectacularly effective. One is unprepared with certain sounds to state confidently who or what has produced them. The repertoire of sound textures, from aqueous effects, to harder and more austere elements which are reminiscent of sections of Xenakis [ the small American label 'Electronic Music Foundation' has a choice selection of Xenakis electronic music and others ]is fascinating on repeated listening.

Fem Kryptofonier is a 16 minute soprano song cycle, perversely set to fragments from the very archaic Greek poet Archilochus [ famous mainly for the parable about the hedgehog and the fox ]. Here, the voice is closely observed, but with wider dynamic range than prevalent in pop recording techniques. Again, the electroacoustical blend forms a taut membrane which interacts with the passionate, elliptic and declamatory vocal 'line'. This work is classically avant garde, a tough nut to crack in the vein of Boulez, but without his filigreed texture as in Anthemes 2 or the hyperelaborate Répons [ both available on DGG CDs]. The Greek vocal fragments project the aura of an imaginary mellowed Xenakis.

This latter observation points to one of the dilemmas regarding modern avant-garde music. The self-congratulatory complexity of much work reduced its aesthetic appeal, making it largely for an audience centred on university departments of music. Thinking of the few critics who regularly review contemporary classical in music magazines, one feels that many would approve of Nordheim's 'Fem Kryptofonier', if only to demonstrate their rigorous taste in approving of ancient Greek electro-acoustic poetic settings. These critics might disparage the final work on this SACD, the song 'the First Butterfly', which to me sounds as though it was composed as the theme song of some offbeat Indy film about love and romance. The works on this SACD run the gamut from the accessibly lyrical, to the hard core. As such, a purist critic might sniff at these offerings as 'uneven', or 'thin'. However, to me this diversity is an advantage rather than a critical flaw, for there is something for everyone with musical curiosity for new explorations in this disc.

Ironically, many might best be served by playing the four pieces here in reverse order!
The ratings for 'performance' I have changed to rating the quality of the compositions as accessible but original classical contemporary music.

Site review by Polly Nomial June 2, 2007
Performance:   Sonics:  
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Site review by Castor July 1, 2007
Performance:   Sonics:  
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Review by threerandot April 29, 2007 (7 of 7 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
The music in this disc is probably unlike any other composer I am familiar with. The Norwegian composer Arne Nordheim takes us into a delicate and imaginative sound world. The music throughout this collection is performed on synthesizers and percussion. Nordheim likes to write for plenty of chimes, gongs, bells, cymbals, organ and occasionaly punctuates the music with loud explosions. There is plenty of electronically generated sounds as well.

This is innovative music that defies categorization. Nordheim does not even use dynamics in the traditional sense. The works presented here contain long crescendos and diminuendos and even the occasional erratic outbursts. Free and improvised in feeling, the music has no rhythmic or melodic center, although melodies do pop through occasionally.

The exception to this is the beautiful and lulling "The First Butterly". This is the perfect piece of music for the end of a hard day and soft listening at night. Unlike the other works, this is the most melodic with its haunting vocal by Elisabeth Holmertz and gentle synths. The mood is tranquil, tender and angelic. This is easily the most accessible work in this collection of music. Elisabeth Holmertz performs all of the soprano vocals on this disc and has a most attractive and expressive voice.

The Cikada Duo do an excellent job of presenting and performing this music in a wide and dynamic sound stage and probably what is the widest surround sound experience I have heard from 2L to date; hence the "WARNING: Extreme Surround Sound!" note on the back of the attractively packaged digipak. The documentation gives some background on how this disc came to be and about Nordheim's approach to composition as well as info on the performers and how they worked with Nordheim.

Sound seems to come from behind the front speakers and moves about you in the listening position. Very impressive. Since the composer wrote these works to be played for an audience "in the round" playback in the SACD format is obviously ideal. Listening back in 2 channel would obviously present limtations to the composers intentions. The sound is warm and enveloping and puts you at the center of the performances.

As for my own tastes, I don't kow how often I will return to this disc as it seems to be a disc I wouldn't find myself in the mood for all that often. But, for something unique and different it should please many listeners who are attracted to modern music that will expand your musical horizons. Recommended.

(This review refers to the MCH portion of this disc)

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