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Friday, July 15, 2022

Baldrian Quartett - Frieda Bertelsohn Martholdy: Streichquartette - Entschlummern sollst du, sollst entschlummern (bRUit, 2022)

By Eyal Haruveni

The cover of the album of Baldrian Quartett mocks the iconic covers of the esteemed classical music label Deutsche Grammophon. The Baldrian Quartett even claims to resurrect for the first time ever on records the forgotten four string quartets of the mysterious composer Frieda Bertelsohn Martholdy of the early avant-garde, “a composer yet unknown to most of us” (and the only details about her are found in the Bandcamp page of the bRUit, and apparently she lived quite a short life (1878-1907)). But the Baldrian Quartett is not a chamber string quartet as the cover art suggests. It matches two like-minded duos - the Swiss duo of electronics player Gaudenz Badrutt and accordion player Jonas Kocher, that has been working since 2009 and are the artistic directors of the bRUit label, together with the duo of German clarinetist Kai Fagaschinski, known from The International Nothing duo, and Viennese Christof Kurzmann who plays on the ppooll software, both released a duo album in 2006 under the moniker Kommando Raumschiff Zitrone (First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, Quincunx Sound Recordings) and continued to collaborate in the Magic I.D. quartet.

But the music on Entschlummern sollst du, sollst entschlummern (roughly translated as Thou shalt fall asleep, thou shalt fall asleep), the debut album of the Baldrian Quartett, is chamber in its spirit and no doubt contemporary in the sense that it represents the art of the moment. The Baldrian Quartett takes its “unprecedented approach” as “true archaeologists of early avant-garde music” very seriously. The quartet suggests quiet and intricate, minimalist dynamics, and focuses on the enigmatic ways the electronics - with the distinct devices and approaches of Badrutt (using distortion devices, no-input-mixing and modular-synthesizer) and Kurzmann (using a laptop), corresponding and extending the acoustic timbral qualities and sonic spectrum of Kocher’s accordion and Fagaschinski’s clarinet, and vice versa. Quite often, the electronic sounds resonate with the acoustic sounds, and vice versa, until these carefully layered sounds become one, almost static, quite reverberating and sometimes even a bit noisy sonic entity. Add to this finely-tuned dynamics the fragile tension building and release and you can already imagine the subtle and transparent soundscapes. The album, true to the elusive history of Martholdy and the Baldrian Quartett, collects “highly praised live performance” at the Music Unlimited Festival in Wels, Austria and studio recordings from the historical Huguenin Studios in Biel, Switzerland, both from November 2018.

The Baldrian Quartett declares that the four-string quartets of Martholdy were composed, supposedly, in 1895 and 1896, when she was only seventeen years old, and all pronouncing “romantic quality, completely innocent of any of the aesthetic conflicts that 20th-century music later challenged” (as the unheard-of musicologists Dr. Georgette Oberwies, Inge Salesianer and Franz von Brandenburg tell about her life that was “full of hardships and despair, which, in the end, turned out to be unbearable for this sensitive creative mind”, in the album’s booklet). But, eventually, it does not really matter if Martholdy was an actual figure, if her prophetic art was oppressed and ignored at her time, or if the Baldrian Quartett just offers an elaborate sonic game by four imaginative improvisers who adopt the colorful sarcasm of The International Nothing and some morbid approach of Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard. The four subtle soundscapes are, obviously, are devoid of sentimentalism or familiar “romantic quality”, but suggestive and puzzling enough even without the clever titles (“Schaurig empfundene Nähe” means Scary closeness; “Ode für den Tod” means Ode for Death; and “ Ich habe genug” means I had enough”, and demand future explorations of the hidden chapters of the early and oppressed history of avant-garde music.    

Listen and download from Bandcamp.
 

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