ANDERSON Fantasias. The Crazed Moon. The Discovery of Heaven
Julian Anderson (b1967) is Mark-Anthony Turnage’s successor as the London Philharmonic’s resident composer. While his own music is not untouched by vernacular elements, it has its own carefully crafted way of reconciling old and new. A forthcoming evening-length opera for ENO seems likely to bring wider recognition to a key player who has not broken with the modernist inheritance yet recognises the potency of consonance. No apology need be made for the quality of these live recordings. The sound is warmer than that actually experienced in the Royal Festival Hall and applause has been excised.
Given that there have been only two previous discs devoted exclusively to Anderson’s music, it is perhaps surprising to find a piece duplicated here. That said, The Crazed Moon (1997) is well worth revisiting. Written as a tribute to Graeme Smith, a young composer pupil and friend who died suddenly with potential unrealised, its title is taken from a Yeats poem which contains a frightening vision of ‘the moon, crazed through much childbirth / staggering through the sky’. There are traces of Birtwistle and Knussen’s influence is as strongly felt as it is in Turnage’s early work but the voice is already quite distinct, the structure at once full of jump-cuts and giving the sense of an unbroken 14-minute arc.
Before this we have Fantasias (2009), a five-movement concerto for orchestra commissioned for Cleveland and exhibiting brighter acrylic surfaces, sparser undergrowth and rather less obvious heart. There are fantastical quasi-reminiscences of Tippett, Stravinsky, Bartók, Ligeti, Messiaen, Boulez et al en route to an extended wild rumpus. The players sound as if they are enjoying what is, at the very least, a glittering workout. (In concert the brass section stood to deliver the opening movement.)
The comparably brilliant performance of The Discovery of Heaven (2011) belies the fact that it is taken from the work’s very first outing, under Ryan Wigglesworth. Dedicated to the late Jonathan Harvey, its starting points are the eponymous epic novel by Dutch writer Harry Mulisch and the ancient Japanese court music known as gagaku. In three movements, the second and third played without a break, it’s a gripping journey through an even wider range of contending sonorities, harmonies and moods, from static oriental contemplation via febrile urban invention to magical, string-based, not-quite-transcendence.
Neither effete nor vulgar, this might just be the new music you’ve been waiting for, its wow-factor surface fluency only part of the story. Strongly recommended.