Alhambra Fantasy

0 of 5 stars

Julian Anderson
Alhambra Fantasy
The Crazed Moon
The Stations of the Sun

BBC Symphony Orchestra
London Sinfonietta [Alhambra Fantasy & Khorovod]
Oliver Knussen

BBCSO performances recorded in January 2000 in Studio 1, BBC Maida Vale, London; and London Sinfonietta contributions set down in December 2001 in The Colosseum, Watford

Reviewed by: David Gutman

Reviewed: August 2006
CD No: ONDINE ODE 1012-2
Duration: 77 minutes

This collection was slated to appear in Deutsche Grammophon’s 20/21 series until retrenchment in the record industry held things up.

While near contemporaries like James MacMillan and Mark-Anthony Turnage have achieved copious representation in the lists, the wait must have been galling for Julian Anderson, born in London in 1967, but it won’t matter now. More recent Anderson scores, on the way from NMC, seem certain to confirm him as a key player, one who has not broken with the modernist inheritance yet recognises the potency of consonance and melody, vernacular and otherwise. Neither effete nor vulgar, this might just be the new music you’ve been waiting for: its wow-factor surface fluency is only part of the story.

It was in 1994 that I became conscious of the composer’s existence. The London Sinfonietta and its then conductor Markus Stenz were showcasing the utterances of musicians in their twenties, many brand new, the rest, for most of us, virgin territory. A couple stood out. One piece, The Origin of the Harp, was by Thomas Adès, and we all know what happened to him. The other was the work of Julian Anderson whose career has progressed without a major recording contract but may yet prove to have greater staying power.

Anderson’s Khorovod closed that concert and remains an extraordinary achievement even if one is more conscious of the degree of calculation (or should that be professionalism?) underlying those brilliant surfaces, the sound of a young composer determined to hit all his targets at once. Its dances jostle for attention in rapid succession (and coruscating overlap); they’re chiefly Eastern European/Russian/tintinnabulatory in character while also taking in allusions to club music which pre-empt the appliqué funk of Adès’s Asyla (1997). The indebtedness to Stravinsky is acknowledged in the title and the idiom. And if the rhythmic zap of “Les noces” seems less important to Anderson these days (such as in the recent Proms commission, “Heaven is Shy of Earth”), he has further refined his ear for shimmering texture.

A much earlier Proms commission, The Stations of the Sun (1998), already sounds superb, its individual, vaguely Tippettian lyricism underpinned by a sense of harmonic movement rare in the music of our time. The Crazed Moon (1997), a tribute to Graeme Smith, a young composer pupil and friend who died suddenly with his potential unrealised, strikes a more disturbing, sombre note.

Alhambra Fantasy (2000) is dedicated to the memory of the French composer Gérard Grisey, reminding us of another significant element in Anderson’s creative profile, the ‘spectral’ movement of the French avant-garde. Only his first acknowledged work, the prize-winning Diptych (1990), might be said to sound less than mature, its second panel (Pavilions en l’Air) an increasingly dense layering of melodic lines. The dedicatee is Per Nørgård, himself an innovative generator of musical structures.

The performances under Oliver Knussen seem exemplary, perhaps especially those featuring the BBC Symphony Orchestra, a variable orchestra and here a great one. Don’t be surprised to find Knussen’s own skirling woodwind writing echoed at various points, together with an eclectic pick of the twentieth-century bran tub. With distinguished sonics, top-notch Moorish-inspired design and eminently lucid notes from the composer, this has to be my own record of the year so far: I hope you will make it yours.

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