FERNEYHOUGH La Terre est un Homme
In his booklet note, Paul Griffiths suggests that Brian Ferneyhough’s music might be heard as a corrective (even a wake-up call?) to that mind-numbing uniformity which arguably pervades Western culture. Indeed, this new release from NMC assuredly bolsters such an argument.
Inclusive, too, in offering a viable overview of this composer’s output. Missa brevis (1969) finds Ferneyhough in his mid-twenties absorbing progressive vocal techniques as he evolves a personal approach. The Kyrie and Gloria abound in hallmarks from Xenakis, Ligeti and Nono, with later movements (not least the austerely syllabic ‘Hosanna’) more individual in vocal treatment. Exaudi sound at ease with its demands, not least the airy vocalise ending the Agnus Dei. Three decades later, Liber scintillarum (2012) takes its cue from an eighth-century French manuscript for a ‘chamber concerto’ whose fragments progress from hectic activity to a settled discourse before disintegrating into gestures riven by silence. A coming into focus, then moving beyond it, which Ensemble Recherche realise with keen virtuosity.
Also featured are two of Ferneyhough’s orchestral works (the earliest, Firecycle Beta, can be accessed on YouTube). La terre est un homme (1979) remains best known for the controversy around its early performances – but, for all its overt complexity, this is music whose utopian outlook incites players and listeners to experience being ‘on the edge’ of a musical trajectory whose panache is as evident as its pathos. Plötzlichkeit (2006) might be the music of a more pragmatic figure, yet Ferneyhough is no less intent in shaping the orchestra his way. Three female vocalists are embedded in the texture and several instruments drawn from the brass band, so facilitating the sense of a sound-mass evolving over myriad sections, and whose manner of transition, sudden and laconic by turns, provokes and entertains in like measure.
In the latter pieces the BBC SO never shirk that lightness of touch which makes listening a pleasure, while Martyn Brabbins directs with calm authority and, above all, a belief in this music’s potency. Ferneyhough’s 75th birthday could not have been more fittingly marked.