A chant provides the pitch; an invocation. Merely a short sequence of four descending notes, yet highly unusual for a CD of orchestral works: it is neither the sound of European art music nor one defined by the tempered chromatic scale. Liza Lim catapults the listeners of The Compass far outside the concert hall. But then, when the phrase is intoned for the third time, a low note is added; claves; trombones; a multi-faceted array of percussion instruments, piano, cellos, and the ever-vital flute of Carin Levine. Once William Barton stops singing, the drama escalates further to a first climax before he brings the orchestra back down to earth, calming its seeming collapse in all directions with earthy sounds from the didgeridoo, underlaid by timpani.
At first glance, it may seem risky to bring such widely-diverging sonic worlds together. It is more than simply a juxtaposition, however: one can listen to the didgeridoo as a musical instrument that produces an extraordinary wealth of timbres; and one can also hear the voices of animals, birds, even spirits in the flute part and orchestral colours. At any rate, listeners are left with little time to think about this, as the dynamic flow of events, even at points of temporary repose filled with noise-like sounds, majestic trombone notes and brief moments of silence, never lets them go. The two soloists are also breathtaking, breathing new radiance time and again into the multi-coloured orchestral setting, primed by the introductory chant.
But Liza Lim does not need exotic instruments: in the second piece, Pearl, Ochre, Hair String, it is the cello that brings a wealth of overtones into play using a special bow. Rhythmic wooden drums, shimmering string and wind colours: the music is no less dramatic, and here too one can feel as if on a strange journey, where sounds of the spheres bring forth light from a different world.
Lim has occupied herself with the aesthetic categories of Aboriginal art, which she here transfers to the large ensemble of the symphony orchestra. This produces equally captivating results, from the first minute to the last, with the two excellent orchestras and three conductors that recorded the three works on the CD at the Herkulessaal in the Munich Residenz and at the Donaueschingen Festival.
In the third work, The Guest, a trumpet plunges right into the middle of things, but then it is the recorder sounds from Jeremias Schwarzer that transport us, sliding and lurching like a bird of paradise, into a magic forest. Orchestral landscapes and sonorous, virtuosic recorder sounds give each other enough space to emerge. Outstanding.
(translation by Wieland Hoban)
Updates (other reviews)
1/3/15. Gordon Kerry has a few things to say about Australian politics & cultural insularity as well the CD. Liza Lim: Orchestral Works, The Music Trust
9/2/15. Another review of the HatArt CD: ambitious, eruptive orchestral works. Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 6 Feb 2015.
Liza Lim, Orchestral Works, Hat[now]Art CD review
Julian Cowley, The Wire, Issue 372, Feb 2015, pp. 58-59
‘Everything falling, rushing forward, ascending, disappearing, reappearing. Disintegrations, agglutinations, fragmentations, reconstitutions.’ So poet Octavio Paz summed up the visionary writings of Henri Michaux, but those words fit well the music of Australian composer Liza Lim. Her orchestral scores are concentrated energy maps. Her music suggests infinite turbulence, cosmic flux and spasm, eruptions and swirling vortices that drag you in, then abruptly spew you into another zone, no less volatile or intense. Carin Levine’s flute and William Barton’s didgeridoo heroically negotiate just such a convulsive and elemental soundworld in The Compass. Lim’s writing for full orchestra doesn’t console them with a sense of progression, but creates skewed cycles of gushing emergence, transformation, sudden decline and regeneration. Recorder soloist Jeremias Schwarzer is granted a more hospitable, less disorienting passage through the vivid orchestral textures of The Guest. A third piece, Pearl, Ochre, Hair String, is a stirring cauldron of glaring brass, gritty and frictional percussion, shrill woodwinds and vertiginous strings.
A live concert recording of Winding Bodies: 3 knots performed by the Cikada Ensemble at the Huddersfield Festival of Contemporary music on November 23rd is available online on BBC3 iplayer for the next month: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04sv2lv
Cikada’s performance of The Heart’s Ear is also online until end of Jan 2015 at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04vdfs4
The Norwegian Cikada ensemble…displayed contemporary music in what seemed to me to be its most hopeful aspect: two superbly imagined works by the British-based Australian Liza Lim (1966), in which old usages of tonality and a wealth of new approaches are fused without self-conscious intent into a captivatingly ‘followable’ discourse, almost tactile in its aural satisfaction. [Paul Driver, Sunday Times review, 30 Nov 2014]
…The work’s soundworld—so often the case with Lim—is sumptuous, its fantasy rapturous (dauntingly so), every moment sounding entirely spontaneous. Winding Bodies: 3 Knots came across rather differently. Imagine music made of PVC, rolling uphill, over gravel, with a storm brewing above (in a good way), and you start to approximate the tenor of this piece… [Simon Cummings, 5:4 blog, 23 Nov 2014]
Liza Lim’s The Weaver’s Knot is a potent tangling of musical lines that unravels and recombines in myriad ways just five minutes. [Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 1 Dec 2014]
The CD of my orchestral works is finally officially out on Hat Art and offers perhaps a less well-known view of my work. It includes The Compass for orchestra with solo parts for flute and didgeridoo, co-commissioned by the Sydney Symphony and the Bavarian Radio Orchestra; Pearl, Ochre, Hair String for orchestra which features a solo ‘cello using a guiro bow (based in part on Invisibility) which was commissioned through the Ian Potter Foundation for the Bavarian Radio Orchestra and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, and The Guest written for recorder soloist Jeremias Schwarzer and the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden & Freiburg. This final piece is somewhat on my mind as it was commissioned by Armin Koehler, the former director of the Donaueschinger Musiktage who sadly passed away just last week. The piece itself was written in memory of a dear family friend and in the preface to the score I included some lines about the transition from life to death written by the beloved poet Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi:
You look down
And it’s lucid dreaming
The gates made of light
You see in
I would like to think that this is how it is.
Cy Twombly: An artist of selective abandon – an artist to return to again and again…
The Four Seasons (after Cy Twombly) was made for the pianist Marilyn Nonken who brings so much nuance and colour to her performance of the work (Helsinki, 2009).
The half-hour work falls into 4 parts: I. Autumn, 6′, II. Winter, 6′, III. Spring, 7′, IV. Summer (Sema), 10′