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Bugallo-Williams Piano Duo & Friends: Varèse: Amériques / Feldman: Five Pianos

img  Tobias Fischer

"It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything", according to Tyler Durden, the Hyde to Edward Norton's unnamed Jekyll in David Fincher's Fight Club. Edgar Varèse would have understood. When he arrived in the USA after the First World War, he learned that back in Europe, practically all his scores had been burned in a warehouse and lost forever. In the absence of hard drive backups or cloud computing, he came to interpret this as a call to leave not just his former homeland, but his entire musical past behind and start from scratch.

"Amériques", a one-movement energy flash depicting the modern world's noises with primeval energy, would mark his second birth as a composer. Although a lot of the novelties, which made it an instant sensation back in 1926 are missing on the version for two pianos and eight hands performed here – the infamous howling siren, a lion's roar – it has surrendered nothing of its bite and power. Not only do the  Bugallo-Williams Piano Duo and their friends Amy Briggs and Benjamin Engeli bring an astounding array of orchestral colors to life. They also manage to loose none of the original's physical intensity, nay, brutality. Pierre Boulez instructed performers of his piano sonata no 2 to 'pulverize' the sound of the piano and something similar is happening in the final minutes of this breathtaking, visionary rendition, with the quartet churning out apocalyptic cluster chords which crunch down on the listener like power drills on granite.

It is precision and intent which are vital here, rather than sheer volume, and yet the contrast with Morton Feldman's "Five Pianos", where the aforementioned performers are joined by Stefan Wirth, could hardly be more crass. A rising eight-note scale, repeated throughout the piece in different registers and forever changing tempos, creates a labyrinthine space without any discernible sense of direction and motion, a journey, where remembering one's point of departure or destination quickly becomes impossible – or even undesirable. Time and space do not loose their meaning, they gain a new one, to be defined the listener as he floats through the innards of the piano's thick, densely layered resonances.

If there are any parallels between these works, biographically suggested by the composers' friendship and Feldman's unflinching admiration for Varèse's uniqueness as an artist, then it must be that both are moving away from the ideal of familiar techniques of developments and clearly delineated sections; or, more to the point, from any kind of mental constructs that could separate form from content.

No moment, once passed, will ever return in life and unlike their classical predecessors, Feldman and Varèse would not do their audience the favour of pretending otherwise in music. All that stands between a brilliant idea and utter arbitrariness and chaos is the creative mind – a heavy burden for some, just a challenge to be overcome for them.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Bugallo-Williams Piano Duo
Homepage: Amy Briggs
Homepage: Benjamin Engeli
Homepage: Wergo Records