DEAN Shadow Music
This superb new release in BIS’s series devoted to Brett Dean takes its name of the longest piece in the collection. Shadow Music is an anxious 2002 triptych with the whimpering, straining ‘Forgotten Garden’ at its core, an evocation of verdure that’s ‘a shadow of its former self’ (Dean) and not at all happy about it.
But the recording’s title applies throughout, too, though the shadows come in differing shades. First there’s the shadow of other musicians in Etüdenfest (2000), a harrowing portrait of string players at practice. A blurry whirl of études, finger turners, scales and arpeggios creates a neurotic chaos, the music seeming at one point to drift off to sleep, with exercises the only dreams, before tuning up again in a daze. At the end, an unwelcome interloper breaks in – a pianist, inciting mayhem and collapse.
There’s the shadow of other composers in Short Stories (2005). That might mean an earlier generation of miniaturists that Dean is consciously paying homage to, such as Webern and Satie, or contemporaries with the gnarlier, more abrasive language that Dean hints at in ‘Devotional’ and ‘Embers’ but rejects in the closing ‘Arietta’, a tender elegy that’s the last of five narratives.
And then there’s the shadow of Beethoven. (Isn’t there always?) Dean’s Testament (2008) has already appeared in its original 2002 version for 12 violas (1/14), and that constrained palette might better suit the subject matter – a thrash against deafness, a struggle for a way forwards – than this feverish orchestration. Even so, given Testament’s quotations from the slow movement of the first ‘Razumovsky’ Quartet, Dean’s 2013 arrangement of the Beethoven for strings, clarinet and flute makes for a delicate, characterful prelude. Like everything else here, it’s dispatched with breathtaking ease by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra.