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Richard RIJNVOS (b. 1964)
Riflesso sul tasto for 3 players (2007) [13:40]
Riflesso sull'arco (2016) [19:49]
Riflesso sullo spazio for 7 players (2019) [40:41]
Ives Ensemble
rec. 2019, Het Orgelpark, Amsterdam

“I’m an odd composer, because, if you ask the people on the street what is it a composer does then the answer (that) is most likely: that’s someone who has a tune in his head and puts it to paper. But in my case, that’s not the way it works. For I do not have any music in my mind. Yet I am a composer and want to create music. What I do, is using abstract means, such as numbers, to generate sounds that I’ve never heard before. The audience has never heard these sounds, but neither have I. In fact I’m the first listener. I discover the sounds by juggling with numbers similarly to how an architect puts together a construction.”

Richard Rijnvos is a magpie spirit, and it’s difficult for the listener to pin his music down. It ventures between out-and-out experimentation (as with his cycle Block Beuys, whose release on Hat Art in 2004 provided my first experience of his music) via colourful, rhythmically vibrant orchestral music touched by jazz and minimalism (NYConcerto) towards topographically informed soundscapes (Antartique). Rijnvos thinks in terms of big ‘cycles’; apart from the Beuys-inspired pieces, the works I’ve named belong to sets which the note for the new disc identifies as Uptown/Downtown, a ‘metropolitan panorama’ inspired by New York City and Grand Atlas, a set of orchestral works depicting the seven world continents. Another ongoing cycle is la Serenissima, a series of works inspired by Venice (the quote which begins this review was taken from a Dutch TV documentary entitled Ponte de la Piet? about one of those pieces).

Yet another cycle includes the Riflessi scores, three of which feature on this issue. We are told that the Italian word riflesso very particularly means ‘sheen’ rather than ‘reflection’; the shade that results from the former differs subtly from its source. In this case the ‘sources’ are what Rijnvos dubs ‘companion pieces’.

Thus Riflesso sul tasto derives from the graphic scores Karlheinz Stockhausen created for Refrain (1959) and its much later revision 3 x Refrain 2000. While its unusual instrumentation resembles Morton Feldman’s late pieces Crippled Symmetry, Why Patterns and For Philip Guston, Rijnvos’ amalgamations of vibraphone, celesta, glockenspiel and piano are more strident and rhythmically propulsive. This is lively and attractive music one could almost dance to. Things slow down half-way; one almost gets the sense of the three players re-grouping but they emerge into the light with music that is perhaps more emphatically accented but no more astringent. While Stockhausen may have provided the raw material for Riflesso sul tasto it is difficult for the innocent ear to connect the pieces or the styles of the two composers beyond the use of the same instruments. The accounts of the original Refrain which feature on YouTube seem to develop rather more slowly and deliberately. The emphatic, confident playing of the three performers here (Arnold Marinissen, Reinier van Houdt and legendary Ives Ensemble pianist John Snijders) is a joy. The recording is exemplary and conveys real presence.

The companion piece for Riflesso sull’arco is Swinging Music, a work from 1970 by Kazimierz Serocki which was once seen as the acceptable face of modernism; it certainly projects playfulness; there are several performances on YouTube which reveal it to be jazzy and fun. Contrarily, the Rijnvos piece starts in the depths with cello and trombone providing a fractured drone, over which clarinettist and pianist draw more unconventional sounds from their instruments. This work seems to be more spontaneous than Riflesso sul tasto; if it touches on jazz at all it’s of a freer variety than that suggested by its Serocki source. The first few minutes of Riflesso sull’arco are stately and lack a defined beat. Trombone and bass clarinet growl rather threateningly. There are occasional, astringent arabesque-like interruptions. As the piece proceeds these somehow appear more sinister. The drone’s influence recedes, and the trombone and cello mellow and ascend, albeit temporarily. One gets a real sense of the great arches of sound described in the booklet note, but again, beyond the similar instrumentation the links between the Rijnvos work and its Serocki source are far from obvious. I do like the feel of this piece – although it’s static and agreeably dark rather than playful. Again, each tiny sonic detail has been cleanly caught by the engineers; indeed the success of the piece seems dependent on such precision.

Riflesso sullo spazio is by far the longest work on the disc and owes its existence to Schoenberg’s relatively conventional Suite, op 29 for seven instruments, written in 1926. Piano arpeggi support lonely, briefly sustained high notes in the violin. When the other instruments (clarinets in E flat and A, bass-clarinet, viola and cello) enter a Viennese ambience is unmistakeable, but the musical material goes off in some unexpected yet absorbing directions. The piece seems very regulated and closely controlled, and truly confirms one’s inability to pigeon-hole Rijnvos, even when comparing pieces within the same cycle. This, presumably, is how that ‘juggling with numbers’ works out. As Riflesso sullo spazio proceeds, the harmonic structure and even the little melodic inflections certainly recall Schoenberg, but not necessarily the middle period works like the Suite; earlier masterpieces like the Chamber Symphony No 1 and the String Quartet No 2 actually come to mind. After about 15 minutes the listener becomes increasingly aware of the little repetitions and the static background. It’s as if the ghost of another larger than life figure looms into view; somewhere behind a pair of thick-rimmed pebble-bottom spectacles and a great fug of smoke the Viennese rebel who somehow ended up in Hollywood transforms into Morton Feldman. These references only really avail themselves on account of the wily tricks Rijnvos’ plays with the listener’s memory. Riflesso sullo spazio fascinates and beguiles; even its tone colours seem to change imperceptibly – at about 26 minutes during a particularly Feldman-like passage a non-existent accordion somehow materialises. Despite its extended length, it attracted this reviewer’s full attention from first note to last. It is difficult indeed to imagine the work being performed with greater intensity and panache than the Ives Ensemble apply here.

It’s pertinent that the brief biography of Rijnvos provided in the notes includes his consideration of the meaning of ‘style’, and how it applies to his music. I can envisage listeners unaware of the provenance of the three works on this disc being astonished to discover they were each written by the same hand. It says much for a composer who is evidently much admired in his homeland that his levels of craftsmanship and architectural know-how are so consistently high. His music is sufficiently original and imaginative to warrant greater exposure in the UK and elsewhere.
In recent years Nimbus and its associate label Nimbus Alliance seem to have been making more regular forays into serious contemporary music. Of course Nimbus has long been associated with the music of George Benjamin, while Nimbus Alliance now seem to be working alongside the Richard Thomas Foundation, and its associated label RTF Classical. This collaboration has already issued fine discs of music by Charlotte Bray and Laurence Crane (the latter also featuring the Ives Ensemble) among others. The present recording is a worthy addition to this series.

Richard Hanlon

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