Ensemble SurPlus

Matthias Spahlinger: Farben der Frühe für Sieben Klaviere

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AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins

German composer Matthias Spahlinger (b. 1944) scored his Farben der Frühe (Colors of Morning) for the unusual, if not unique, ensemble of seven pianos. It's impossible to know the composer's motivation for limiting a work whose subject is "color" to the single color of the piano, but apparently it proved to be a daunting task, because it took eight years to complete. The six-movement, 45-minute piece falls squarely into the tradition of European modernism, with a spiky tonal language and loads of rhythmic complexity. While the work's jagged surface, which includes a lots of random-sounding crashing dissonances, doesn't make it immediately lovable, it must be admitted that Spahlinger is skilled at building suspense and at creating movements with strongly differentiated characters. The most striking movement is the third, which for most of its 11 minutes consists of a single, repeated pitch; when it finally explodes into a full chromatic array, the effect is astonishing, and genuinely powerful. The sound of seven pianos is not as loud and overwhelming as you might think, but in a live performance in which the separation of the instruments is easier to perceive, the effect may be more dramatic. The Ensemble SurPlus, conducted by James Avery, plays with unstinting vitality and stamina. The live recording picks up ambient noises like page turns, and the sound is generally good, given the impossible task of capturing seven instruments in two channels.

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