AMN Reviews: Beat Furrer [2015; MGB CTS-M 141]

7613295407824Composer Beat Furrer (b. 1954), a native of Schaffhausen, Switzerland, and currently Professor of Composition at the University of Music and Performance Art in Graz, Austria, is the subject of this recent installment in the Musiques Suisses series of CDs.

The five compositions collected here represent Furrer’s work for chamber ensembles during the twenty-year period 1991-2011. Although they vary in terms of the size and makeup of the groups for which they were written, all draw on a modernist vocabulary of expanded instrumental techniques and melodies composed of sound colors as well as pitches.

The first two pieces, 1991’s Aer for clarinet, cello and harp, and 1992’s …cold and calm and moving for flute, harp, violin, viola and cello, are scored for mixed ensembles centered around the color contrasts of wind and strings. Aer opposes the active, fluttering clarinet to the more episodic stabs of piano and cello, the latter using different bow articulations to broaden its timbral palette. In …cold and calm and moving Furrer sets up a tension between the strings’ rapid movement and the slower lines of the flute, and then transposes this tension to the work’s overall gestalt by alternating dense and thin textures, and by reversing the frantic phrasing of the first half into a second half marked by long, slow, space-filled passages. The introspectively beautiful Lied (1993) for piano and violin follows. Understated motifs pass back and forth between the two instruments, which frequently complete each other’s phrases and seem to exchange roles as lead and support. The one vocal work, auf tönernen füssen (2001), is a half-whispered, half-spoken setting of a poem by Friederike Mayröcher accompanied by a flute drawing generously on a range of unconventional techniques. The collective effect of these key clicks, rushes of air and rapid passages of notes paired with the calm urgency of the voice is at times uncanny, being more intimate theater than song. The set concludes with 2011’s Studie for Piano, a cyclic work of isolated notes congealing into accelerating cascades and hyperactive register leaps, which dissolve back into fragmentary, individual notes.

A fine set of compelling and well-realized compositions.