Brian Ferneyhough: La Terre Est un Homme

Exaudi / Martyn Brabbins / James Weeks / BBC Symphony Orchestra / Ensemble Recherche

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Brian Ferneyhough: La Terre Est un Homme Review

by James Manheim

British composer Brian Ferneyhough, who has worked both in California and on the European continent, remains controversial but has not altered his style in response to what Glenn Watkins has called New Simplicities. (Indeed, he is often referred to as the father of New Complexity.) The final work here, La Terre Est un Homme (The Earth Is a Person), has rarely been performed because not only audiences but orchestral musicians rebelled against its difficulty at its first two performances in 1979. The technical challenges posed by Ferneyhough's scores are legendary: La Terre Est un Homme is for an orchestra of 88 players, each of whose part is intricate and entirely soloistically treated. In the opening Liber scintillarum (instrumental although its name is derived from that of a monastic manuscript of around 700 CE), the score directs the execution of a 1024th note (lasting about 12 milliseconds). For nonspecialist listeners it will be difficult to determine whether such details have been played correctly, but the album offers Ferneyhough at a variety of levels, as it were, for the uninitiated. You hear not only the extreme Ferneyhough of La Terre Est un Homme and the Liber Scintillarum, but also the more clearly sectional Plötzlichkeit, which intelligibly embodies the idea of suddenness denoted by its German title, and the early Missa Brevis, whose alternately chantlike and rapidly shifting vocals delineate Ferneyhough's musical ideas clearly. The album is likely to reinforce the idea that Martyn Brabbins, here leading the BBC Symphony Orchestra, can conduct anything adequately, and it's a good pick for anyone interested in this composer.

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