Nieuw Ensemble / Ed Spanjaard

Mauricio Kagel: Kantrimiusik

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Kantrimiusik, which the composer describes as a "pastorale for voices and instruments," is full of the sly subversiveness typical of many of Kagel's works. This is obviously full-blown modernism, bustling with wacky post-Ivesian juxtapositions and disjunctions, but for the listener with a certain sensibility and an appreciation for the absurd, it's immensely entertaining, unselfconsciously exuberant, and bubbling over with benevolent mirth. The premise of the 1975 piece, whose title, Kantrimiusik, must be a fabricated homonym for countrymusic, plays both with the pastoral motif that has beguiled composers for ages, and the expanding commercial promotion of world folk music as popular entertainment. Kagel doesn't use any authentic folk material, but his faux-folk is hilarious, often overlaid with sounds like the twittering of birds, cowbells, bleating sheep, and summer rainstorms, with shameless accompaniments played on instruments like banjo, harmonica, ukulele, and ensembles like a beer-hall band. The vocalists intone quirky folkish songs in made-up languages. (The composer encourages the employment of untrained singers, particularly "cracked voices with imprecise intonation," for added authenticity.) The fact that Kagel is able to use these unsubtle elements is a way that is in fact subtle and highly sophisticated is something of a marvel and makes this a work to be savored both for its visceral humor and its intellectual and aesthetic integrity. The fabulous performers, the Nieuw Ensemble, and the singers -- Angela Tunstall, Susan Bickley, and Alan Belk, led by Ed Spanjaard -- bring the highest standards of musicianship to the whimsical material. Winter & Winter's sound is present, lifelike, and wonderfully atmospheric. Highly recommended.

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