Brett Dean, Composer and Performer

Brett Dean / Sydney Symphony Orchestra

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Brett Dean, Composer and Performer Review

by James Manheim

Sweden's BIS label has carved out an interesting niche by presenting music with a virtuoso Romantic ethos, whether it dates as far back as Carl Maria von Weber or as recently as the present day. The music of Australian-German composer Brett Dean, a former violist with the Berlin Philharmonic, demands plenty of string technique grafted onto music displaying central European modernist techniques. The program reaches its fun high point with Twelve Angry Men, originally composed for the 12 Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic, and is a work that combines humor with a dark undercurrent of commentary on the way the individual in contemporary society is shouted down by increasingly nasty crowds. Entirely different is Intimate Decisions for solo viola (1996), performed, as is the Viola Concerto, by Dean himself. Dean likens the process of writing for a solo instrument to writing a personal letter or having an intense discussion with a close friend. The personal letter comparison is apt: the work begins with high harmonics that suggest the background noise of everyday communication and proceeds to wrenching revelations. These smaller works are more accessible than the two orchestral pieces with which they are bookended, but the Viola Concerto, composed in 2005, is an ambitious piece that's probably more compelling in live performance than in a recording. The disc was recorded at various locations, and BIS' remastering knits the various well-recorded performances into a whole. The label continues to present contemporary music in compelling ways and to redefine the canon with an ear toward recapturing the pure visceral enjoyment of virtuoso instrumental playing while recognizing the flow of stylistic change.

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