Fortunat Frölich

Naja

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Naja may not be generally considered as one of Fortunat Frölich's best works, but it remains a pleasant listen and some might actually find the release to be a favorite in the Swiss composer and cellist's catalog. Issued in 1990 by For 4 Ears, Naja consists of the 44-minute title piece, for cello, bass clarinet, piano, and percussion, with extra soloists added (literally overdubbed) in specific sections. The main quartet (Frölich, Reto Senn, Fritz Hegi, and Pit Gutmann) improvises freely (European-style) for most of the piece, although some passages seem to be at least directed if not notated, especially in terms of dynamics and tone range. Frölich the cellist is prominently featured in some places, playing a lot with bow pressure and grain. Superimposed to the improvising is a minor-key theme, ghostly, extremely film-like, reminiscent of Nino Rota or Alain Goraguer (his themes for La Planète Sauvage in particular). The six-bar motif is first stated by the piano one minute into the piece. It reappears later performed by an ensemble of pan flutes, soprano singer Isabel Witschi (accompanied by accordionist Hans Hassler), and a children's choir. Vocal parts are sung to the two syllables "na-ja." Besides the very good improvising, the interest of the piece resides in the clash between highly atonal free improv and the emotional directness of the theme (it sounds so sad). The process may be a bit crude, but it works.