Archipels: Saunders, Boucourechliev, Clarke, Riehm

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Rebecca Saunders: to an utterance — study (2020) 10:01
André Boucourechliev: Archipel 5d, op. 11 (1970) [version 1] 9:48
James Clarke: Piano Sonata No. 2 (2019) 21:07
André Boucourechliev: Archipel 5d, op. 11 (1970) [version 2] 7:23
Rolf Riehm: Ciao, carissimo Claudio oder Die Steel Drums von San Marco (2017) 10:39 for piano and CD
André Boucourechliev: Archipel 5d, op. 11 (1970) [version 3] 7:07

(all first recordings apart from Saunders)

bastille musique 25
release date 1 September 2023

Available from Bandcamp here.

bastille musique presents its twenty-fifth release »Saunders, Boucourechliev, Clarke, Riehm: Archipels« featuring world premiere recordings by Nicolas Hodges (piano). The album combines new works for piano by Rebecca Saunders, James Clarke and Rolf Riehm with three different interpretations of André Boucourechliev’s open form composition Archipel 5d from 1970. In addition to the recordings produced by the SWR, it also contains a 48-page bilingual booklet (EN, DE) with articles by Nicolas Hodges, Carl Rosman and an interview with the pianist, music sheets of all works and the autograph of Boucourechliev’s, as well as pictures of the composers and a concertina-fold photo insert documenting recording sessions in the studio.

From Nicolas Hodges's introduction:

Why another piano recital album? To answer this question, I would like to go a little further back and explain the genesis of the present recordings. The working title of this album was Not live at Donaueschingen in reference to the Donaueschinger Musiktage, whose 2020 edition was dramatically Covid-cancelled only days before. Some artists had even already arrived in the town. Shortly afterwards, Björn Gottstein, the then-artistic director of the festival, offered me an outlet for the inevitable frustration in the form of studio sessions to record my vanished recital programme. I accepted thankfully and this album is the result: the documentation of a recital in a festival which never happened.

My Donaueschingen programme itself was constructed, as many are, from a series of serendipities. The first was that Klangforum Wien gave Rebecca Saunders a commission to be fulfilled explicitly under lock-down conditions. As its title suggests, the resulting piece is directly based on Saunders’ piano concerto to an utterance which by that point had been completed (with me as the intended soloist) but not yet performed, due again to Covid. Rebecca used the opening of the concerto as her starting point, and over some weeks we exchanged phone calls, along 13 with sketches from her side and recordings from mine — first of the opening of the concerto, then of other portions, and finally of new material which binds the concerto fragments together and develops out of them. The resulting piece was first performed by my colleague Joonas Ahonen, and recorded by him, in line with the commission: my Donaueschingen performance was to be the second.

Following that somewhat messy situation, the rest of the programme accompanying Saunders’ to an utterance — study came quickly. I had al- ready played the first performance of Rolf Riehm’s Ciao, carissimo Claudio oder Die Steel Drums von San Marco at the Monday Evening Concerts in Los Angeles in 2018, and subsequently in 2019 at the Transit Festival, Leuven. This was the perfect opportunity for its German premiere. And James Clarke had recently been moved to write his Piano Sonata No. 2, whose premiere fit perfectly into the programme. All three composers have been faithful collaborators over many years.

Boucourechliev is a composer whom I never met. His music poses many questions which I nevertheless feel the need to answer. His open form works, such as Archipel 5d, present a unique challenge, by making the performer responsible for the real-time composition of the work according to the possibilities presented. In my experience, the main difficulty here is not the binding together of reservoirs of pitch and rhythm separated by a distance on the page — although that is mind-bending enough — but 14 the creation, live, of a satisfying form. Perhaps as a result of this formal consciousness and conscientiousness, these pieces come across as uniquely expressive, in comparison with other open-form works. (Boucoure- chliev’s fully notated works are just as fascinating even if their surface is the result of a different set of techniques.)

To come back to the initial question: as far as I can see, it inspires roughly the same answer when asked about an album such as this one, as it does when asked about a concert. Namely, that audiences want to hear the piano played alone, that pianists want (sometimes) to play alone, and — as obvious from the above — composers want to compose solo piano pieces. And what pieces!

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