ABRAHAMSEN Landscapes. Walden
The Ophelia of Hans Abrahamsen’s let me tell you (2013), the contemporary ‘work of the moment’, surrenders to the deadly whiteness of snow. Here’s some useful context to where that whiteness came from. With Landscapes (1972) Abrahamsen was clearing the decks. In directing the musicians of his wind quintet to play senza espressivo and not stray from each of the three movement’s specified dynamics, the effect is of a resounding, inviting neutrality.
With those decks cleared, Abrahamsen could deliver Walden (1978), a piece of ‘meticulously detailed minimalism’, to quote Jens Cornelius’s booklet-note, that imposes rigorous but organic procedures upon a narrow range of tonal material. Those procedures result in music that reflects the changes and chances – the predictable unpredictability – of what you might see if you sat in a forest looking in one direction for a long time. Here and in Landscapes, the performances have space and purity to match (far more so, in the case of the latter, than Dacapo’s 2001 version).
At the end of the ’80s, when Abrahamsen felt his brand of New Simplicity was spiralling into complexity, he stopped writing original music and focused on transcriptions. In his 2005 rewrite of Schumann’s Kinderszenen you immediately miss a piano’s improvisatory push and pull. But there are payoffs aplenty in the capering oom-pah suggestions of ‘Hasche-Mann’, the wistfulness of Tomasso Lonquich’s clarinet in ‘Träumerei’ and the ensemble-borne lilt of ‘Kind im Einschlummern’.
Even more relevant is an underlining of the childish in music where much of the sense of sophistication comes from naturally urbane piano renditions. That’s apparent, too, in Abrahamsen’s quintet arrangement of the orchestrated movements of Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin. You can’t quite hear the twisting tune of the Forlane in this performance, but elsewhere all the score’s curious mixture of bite and nostalgia is absolutely and deliciously conveyed.