Brice Catherin: Winterreise [pyr065]
Winterreise is composer/cellist Brice Catherin’s 40-minute long concerto for cello and small ensemble, recorded at its premier performance in October 2010. Catherin describes this work as having been composed for “cello with specific techniques,” which here means the substantial use of triple and quadruple stops. Because these cannot be produced with the standard bow, the work calls for the specially-made Bach.bogen bow.
The Bach.bogen is a dramatically curved bow developed by German cellist/composer Michael Bach in 1990, with the involvement of cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. In contrast to a conventional bow, the Bach.bogen’s curve allows its user to play polyphonically by sounding one, two, three or four strings at once. Although frequently associated with contemporary experimental music, the bow as conceived goes back to Albert Schweitzer’s 1905 book on J.S. Bach, the argument being that a sufficiently curved bow was needed to sound the chords of the composer’s solo works for cello and violin. But it’s perhaps best known for its use in John Cage’s ONE8.
For this premier performance, Catherin played the solo cello. Its parts add up to a kind of inventory of the technical possibilities afforded by the Bach.bogen, from grinding, overpressured chords to polyphonic vibrato to the opposition of rapidly repeated figures on higher strings against drones on the lower strings. The accompanying orchestra is described as a free ensemble, meaning one in which the number of instruments is determined but the choice of instruments is left open. This particular ensemble is made up of a highly diverse group of instruments including multiple saxophones, guitar and bass guitars, violins, percussion, accordions, and even a homemade sitar. The ensemble supports the solo cello with a thick but porous tissue of sound characterized by shifts in color, texture and density rather than by conventional changes in harmony.
Catherin composed Winterreise as the first of three concerti for Bach.bogen cello. It will be interesting indeed to hear the subsequent installments in this series.