Now in his forty-first year, Australia-born Dean is best known as a viola player and was a member of the Berlin Philharmonic for fifteen years. His recordings include Benjamin Frankels evocative concerto, with the Queensland Symphony and Werner Andreas Albert (CPO 999 422-2). Now a full-time composer, Deans music has a visceral side allied to real technical command and an urgent desire to communicate.
Unsurprising in the case of Intimate Decisions (1996), in which Dean puts the solo viola through its paces in music whose cumulative arch of intensity grows audibly from the well-defined group of intervals heard in the austere opening bars. For all its evident virtuosity, the emotional impact is never in doubt, and the composer himself steered the piece through in a performance of undoubted eloquence.
Winter Songs (1994-2000) is very different: a setting of five poems by e. e. cummings (he of the lower-case!) for tenor and wind quintet. The typographical and syntactic freedom of many of cummingss poems encourages a spontaneous response, and Dean certainly captured the penetrating observations of Poem 16 and Poem 17 whose emotional trajectory seemed to mirror the lengthy instrumental prelude with its Varèsian dynamism and subtlety of sonority. Poem 36 formed the centrepiece of the song-cycle, its ecological concerns inspiring a response of agitated uncertainty. The final two settings of Poem 52 and Poem 42 respectively open onto a much calmer expression, the music drawing into itself as the verses allow for a degree of tenderness.
Winter Songs was sung with commitment by Daniel Norman with the Philharmonias wind players giving their all under the expert direction of Martyn Brabbins. Brett Dean has clearly evolved into a composer of substance, and his music will hopefully be featuring more regularly in UK programmes from now on.
- The next Music of Today features Poul Ruders on Tuesday, 4 June, in the Royal Festival Hall at 6 oclock free admission, no ticket required
- Recordings of Brett Deans music: One of a Kind (Channel Classics CCS 12898); Nights Journey BIS-CD-884
- For an overview of the 10th Anniversary series click here