AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Brice Catherin – Winterreise

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.

3 replies on “AMN Reviews: Brice Catherin – Winterreise”

Hi! Thanks for your review. There are a few (very) minor mistakes I’d like to correct:
– in fact the origin of the Bach.Bogen is the Renaissance, when this kind of bow, in a more primitive way, were more common.
– the free ensemble has a minimum number of instruments needed (seven in Winterreise), but doesn’t have an upper limit of instruments and could be theoretically played by a full orchestra with choir of 200 people. (I hope that happens some day!) We’re 22 on that recording (plus the soloist).
– the three concerto will be for a cellist with various extended techniques, not necessarily with the BachBogen. Episode 2, that I premiered last month, was for “electronic cello” (actually an electric cello with live electronic) and BachBogen ; Episode 3, to be premiered (and composed) in a year or two will be for a cellist-orchestra, meaning a cellist playing many instruments at the same time. The idea is that the same soloist should be able to master very different techniques. (And aesthetics.)

There, you know everything!
Thanks again for the review and keep following! (Here:

All the best,

Brice Catherin.

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