CD review: Halffter’s Homo electricus

First published in the Guardian on 25 September, 2015

Halffter: Homo electricus
Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid/Encinar (Stradivarius)

Cristobal Halffter, born in Madrid in 1930, is an electro-acoustician of the old school, just a couple years the junior of pioneers like Boulez and Stockhausen. He lived in Spain throughout the Franco regime and his music burns with the desire for non-violence and human rights. Meanwhile he kept up connections with the European avant-garde and the three works on this disc (Variaciones sobre la resonancia de un grito, Planto por las victimas de la violencia and Lineas y puntos) were all commissioned in the 1960s-1970s by the Donaueschingen Festival, vanguard of sharp-edged modernism. Nowadays Halffter’s techniques might only interest those particularly keen on vintage live electronics, but the sense of fear, repression and yearning for freedom in this music still resonates. The Madrid orchestras’ playing under Jose Ramon Encinar is impressive: mournful low clarinets, searching violins, restive flutes and punchy brass vie for space and are repeatedly thwarted by the dense, jagged din of the whole ensemble. Not the easiest listen.