CD review: Musikfabrik’s Scherben

First published in the Guardian on 11 February, 2016

Harvey, Poppe, Saariaho, Nunes: various works
Ensemble Musikfabrik (Wergo)

Hard to imagine the Cologne contemporary music collective Ensemble Musikfabrik deliberately timing a release for Valentine’s Day, so let’s just call it a coincidence that love and light are the themes behind this latest programme from their excellent Westdeutscher Rundfunk radio concert series. The playing is as committed, frank and business-like as ever. Jonathan Harvey’s Sringara Chaconne glows and shimmers in a graceful exploration of Hindu notions of erotic love. Nimble solo lines from cellist Dirk Wietheger work like a flashlight darting about a vast frescoed cathedral, illuminating glittering dark corners in Kaija Saariaho’s cello concerto Notes On Light. The title track is Nonne Poppe’s Scherben — the German word for ‘shards’ describing a spasmodic musical prism of clinking little fragments. It’s a spiky listen, but it works. The last work on the disc is Emmanuel Nunes’s Chessed I, an austere 20-minute score from 1979 that lacks the sensual magnetism of the rest of the programme. The performance is impressive, though, particularly the fearless grit of the string playing.