CD review: Eva-Maria Houben’s Livres d’Heures

First published in the Guardian on 19 January, 2017

Eva-Maria Houben: Livres d’Heures
Houben/ Feilen/Carlson/ Kumper (Wandelweiser)

Eva-Maria Houben (b. 1955) is a German composer/organist who epitomises the Wandelweiser aesthetic of sparseness, slowness, unwavering quiet, fastidious calm. “Music may exist ‘between’,”she writes. “In my music you will find sounds which seem to avoid the decision: appearing or disappearing?” She sets up situations as much as anything, lingering after a note has been struck in that space where anything might just happen. And because nothing does happen — the next note sounds as insistently serene as the previous — there’s a creeping tension, like someone holding a feather a millimetre from your nose for an indeterminate amount of time. Houben’s Livres d’Heures is named after the medieval Christian devotional books and is delivered with exemplary control on this recording. The first book features tubular bells in warm unison with Houben’s piano; the second book inhabits the fragile upper harmonics of two violins; the third, a whispered panoply of bow scrapes and pizzicatos, spins off into the tantalising realm of Hector Berlioz’s marvellous instruction ‘presque rien’.