Christian Wolff

Tilbury Pieces/Snowdrop

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Though it might be difficult for the listener to hear at first blush, Christian Wolff's Tilbury Pieces, as well as Snowdrop, are his austere takes on the post-Cage minimalism that sprung up in the '60s, achieving some degree of popularity in the work of Reich, Glass, Riley, et. al. Wolff approaches things rather differently, however. He tends to restrict his performers to a small range of pitches, sometimes as few as three, and has them follow certain cyclical rules modeled, in part, after planetary rotation. So, as Wolff states in the liner notes, "...sound x appears...every 54 beats, sound y every 29, sound z every 11." This results in an odd, very vague sense of rhythm, although the beat structure is so elongated that a wide-open spatial sense usually predominates. All but the final piece, "Tilbury 5" (the pieces are dedications to pianist John Tilbury) were composed between 1969 and 1970, and share an almost monasterial feeling of reticence and patience, allowing the sounds to emerge in a drip-like cadence. In "Tilbury 4," the notes are held for longer durations, and the listener truly gets an aural image of large bodies floating past one another in a huge, dark space. Though largely written for piano, the works are open to interpretation by any group of instruments, and are here performed by the fine trio of Dimitrios Polisoidis (violin/viola), Hildegard Kleeb (piano), and Roland Dahinden (trombone/melodica). By 1996's "Tilbury 5," Wolff's style had grown somewhat more expansive and, within constraints, lyrical. There are even (very) subtle allusions to folk forms and more traditionally "emotional" constructs. This is a fine disc, lovingly played and, in addition to being a valuable addition to the relatively limited amount of recorded Wolff available, serves as a necessarily austere palate cleanser to combat the overwhelming amount of more sugary minimalism around.

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