I spent longer assessing this CD than I have ever spent on any one release, and I have to admit that I am simply defeated by much of it. I generally enjoy new music, but while I will gladly acknowledge that Christopher Redgate, who has for years specialized in avant-garde works for oboe, has amazing technique, and will tip my hat to the ingenuity —and I will always assume, artistic integrity—of the six composers represented here, I must start out by saying that I have failed to get inside any of the works presented. This is not to say that the experience has been a waste of time or without its rewards. There is much here that is interesting: sometimes amusing, though as often grating. Still, all too frequently I found my attention wandering before the pieces had ended, and there were times when the program moved from one work to another without my noticing.
There are two themes running through the program. First is the exploration of a vast array of extended techniques for the oboe, many developed by the soloist. The second is the interaction between the performer and electronics. It is often two-way, where the electronics are associated with a computer which responds to the soloist as the soloist responds to it. Such electroacoustic music can follow a particular plan, or be completely defined by the moment. Both types of works are represented here.
It is likely that the actual sounds produced will determine if a prospective listener will be interested. To be brutally frank: If you can imagine R2-D2 squawking under torture as the cantina band plays Stockhausen under threat of death at the hands of Imperial stormtroopers, you have some idea of how much of Roger Redgate’s Concerto for Improvising Soloist and Two Ensembles sounds. And we are treated to two largely indistinguishable versions of it —at least in terms of effect—beginning and ending the two-hour-and-25-minute recital. (Note, this was not the only time I thought of the feisty, diminutive Star Wars robot as I listened to these discs.) Two versions of Michael Young’s oboe_prothesis are also included, one on each disc. Representative of the second type of computer interaction mentioned, it is so markedly different in its two iterations as to be effectively different compositions. One is densely kinetic, the other more like Ligeti with sharp edges.
Then there is David Gorton, who seems to like long-held notes and close dissonances. Both are characteristic of the beginning and end of Schmetterlingsspiel, and the second, in the form of micro-tonalities, is central to Erinnerungsspiel. The means used to create these may be of interest to the progressive player, but the effect of prolonged exposure to them is annoyance. Think of a piercing siren that won’t shut down. Edwin Roxburgh’s T. S. Elliot-inspired work, ” …at the still point of the turning world… “, composed in 1976, is a classic of sorts in the field of electroacoustic music. It is striking for its ghostly use of delay circuits, but is also aurally abrasive, especially at the end where the layers of sound pile up into a prodigious climax.
Christopher Fox explores the novelty of Pong-like square wave pulses at seemingly random tempos to accompany a musette in Headlong, and uses three overlapping English horns —two prerecorded—played at slightly different tempos in the incongruously titled Broadway Boogie. Matthew Wright—presumably with tongue in cheek—claims that English Landscape Painting can be described as “a nostalgic hybrid between two of my favorite English ‘pastoral’ composers -Vaughan Williams and Squarepusher.” I hear neither nostalgia nor Vaughan Williams.
Bottom line: I have really spent more than enough time on this that I can fairly say this is not for me. I hope I have given guidance here for others to decide if it is for them. It is well recorded and marvelously played by all involved —no question of that.