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Post Date: 12/31/2005
Brian Cherney
Brian Cherney
Canadian Composers Portraits

Format Reviewed: 2xCD

This double-disc set (the second disc is a documentary about the composer) chronicles Brian Cherney's post avant-garde path with five compositions dating from 1985 to the present -- all of them world premiere recordings.

In Like Ghosts from an Enchanter Fleeting (for cello and piano), Cherney begins the first of six movements with bell-like piano figures -- a recurring allusion to "bells of several churches, some near, some far away" from August Strindberg's The Ghost Sonata -- and silk-thin cello work, alternately fusing and releasing the two. He allows each to speak freely during its independence, and makes ample use of silence and space between responses. String Quartet No. 3 doesn't sustain the placid mood -- it's an agitated, hyper-contrapuntal piece in which Cherney repeatedly organizes and disperses a dense texture, creating perpetual tension by forcing you to shift your focus from foreground to background (i.e. he matches slower, louder gestures with quicker pp echoes).

Though In the Stillness of September 1942 and La Princesse Iointaine were written for a much larger ensemble, they retain an intimate feel -- largely because Cherney cedes the stage to each work's featured soloists (Cari Ebli on English horn and Judy Loman on harp, respectively), not the orchestra. He doesn't sink to clichéd symphonic blasts or schizophrenic instrumental chaos, instead favoring unison writing, rich harmonic structures, submissive quietude and colors that extend the spectra of his various solo instruments -- for instance, woody, droning gestures for the harp.

Like most 20th Century composers, the sixty-something Cherney spent his early years steeped in experimental technique. Though these experiences pepper his style, he actually prefers to reach further back, incorporating methods from the Renaissance, Classical and Late Romantic periods. He mixes these with the spatial sound of Takemitsu, the tender approach of Vaughan-Williams and the subdued restlessness of Debussy. The result: gorgeous, timeless music.

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