John Borstlap Hyperion's Dream

Author: 
Ivan March

John Borstlap Hyperion's Dream

  • Capriccio
  • Hyperion's Dream
  • Night Music

The booklet with this disc suggests that John Borstlap “is one of the very few composers who have tried in the last twenty years to re-interpret traditional (i.e. tonal as distinct from atonal) values”. But such composers are not so few. Indeed we are in the middle of a distinct creative reaction against atonality. Borstlap is one of a number of composers returning to a more traditional melodic style. And one does not forget minimalists such as John Adams and Gorecki, and the minimal-medievalists such as Arvo Part. There’s the remarkable John Tavener, who is a bit of everything including Greek Orthodox, but certainly an inspirational composer; and there’s Michael Nyman who has found a legitimate way to a public hearing through his film scores. All these, and more, are writing music that people want to hear, and if its style is simplistic, it is real tonal music. So where does John Borstlap fit into this fast-running creative stream?
We are told that Hyperion’s Dream was inspired by Holderlin’s novel, Hyperion, and the musical process is summed up by the writer’s metaphor: “The heart would not desire its upward rush to heaven, and become spirit, without the age-old silent rock of fate opposing it”. The opening of each of the two movements of this work for cello and piano brings an immediately accessible and touching lyrical strand of melody, but thereafter the argument becomes more complex and the melodic line is buried in prolix, closely woven part-writing. The same thing happens in the first movement of the Night Music for viola and piano: before long it becomes a very restless night. The Allegretto leggiero opens with a hint of charm, but soon the two protagonists have fallen out again. The Adagio then brings 1'47'' of something approaching serenity; but the finale returns to the restless neurosis. I had hoped for better things from the Capriccio, since the combination of violin, horn and piano has great potential. Indeed the first movement brings some amiable lyrical ideas, even if none is memorable. The “Intermezzo”, marked Tranquillo, is rather fine, and contains some grateful string playing, but again it only lasts 1'38''. The Andante con moto finale, however, flows nicely and carries the listener along on its current, which hits the rapids later on. But my criticism here is that the composer makes no response to his special combination of instruments (as Brahms did so wonderfully) and only at the very end of the work does the horn have something all of its own to say, echoed by the violin.
The players put their hearts into the whole programme, but they are not helped by the acoustic, which is far too reverberant: as soon as the music gets loud the individual lines become obscured (and that applies particularly to the two duos).'

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