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Saturday, February 17, 2024

New compositions by Jürg Frey

By Eyal Hareuveni
Swiss composer-clarinetist Jürg Frey celebrated his 70th birthday last year and the two new albums reviewed below represent only part of his rich activity, focusing on exploring wide, quiet sound spaces.

Keiko Shichijo - Jürg Frey: Les Signes Passagers (elsewhere, 2023)

Les signes passagers (passenger signs) offers seven pieces for solo fortepiano written by Frey in 2021, commissioned by the Japanese, Amsterdam-based, contemporary pianist Keiko Shichijo (who performed before Frey’s Piano Pieces, Nr. 1-3 (1991)), and performed on a replica of early fortepiano (after Anton Walter, ca.1792, with equal beating victorian tuning, close to equal temperament), which Shichijo already explored before. These pieces were premiered by Shichijo at the Concertgebouw Brugge In Belgium during the SLOW Festival in February 2022, and recorded at the same location in April 2023, with the presence of Frey. Frey painted the cover artwork.

Frey says: “If the modern piano tries to get a constant brilliance over the whole keyboard, in the fortepiano there are worlds between the middle, the high and the low register. The whole construction of the instrument is so subtle, and every movement, the slightest change in registers and density of chords immediately opens a variety of colors, new perspectives and emotions”.

Frey and Shichijo offer an untimely sense of time and space with the vintage keyboard instrument. Shichijo’s masterful playing stresses the fragile, breathy and spacious tones and overtones of the fortepiano, with all its shades and silent pauses, and explores anew its distinct sonic range. Les signes passagers suggests ascetic and subtle, emotional landscapes that “sometimes shine through, not on the surface”, as Frey noted, but sonic landscapes that draw the listener deeper and deeper into its hypnotic atmospheres.

Quatuor Bozzini - Jürg Frey: String Quartet No. 4 (Collection QB, 2024)

String Quartet No. 4 is the third string quartet Frey composed for Canadian, Montréal-based contemporary ensemble Quatuor Bozzini (first violinist Alissa Cheung, second violinist Clemens Merkel and Alissa Cheung, violist Stéphanie Bozzini and cellist Isabelle Bozzini) over twent years of collaboration (the first one, String Quartets, was recorded in 2004, Edition Wandelweiser Records, 2006). This 65-minute, five-movement composition was written between 2018 and 2020 (and completed before Frey composed Les signes passagers). It was first premiered - virtually - at the MaerzMusikl Festival in Berlin in March 2021 and performed live for the first time at the Only Connect Festival in Oslo in April 2022 and refined during the recording with Quatuor Bozzini in Montréal in May 2023.

Frey describes this composition as “slow, sometimes static, often delicately shifting between standstill and movement. And yet, after more than an hour, this music has arrived at another place. Standstill, little happens, — it is this atmosphere from which my music emerges and to which it always returns. Sometimes it just stays there. This is my world”.

String Quartet No. 4 is a calm and beautiful composition that radiates a rare sense of poetic weightlessness in search of silence in sound, with a profound emotional effect. It is developed slowly, with minimalist and slow shifts and almost transparent dissonances, always hinting about its deeper, secret wonders, evoking a musical garden that asks you to appreciate its delicate, changing colors as they blossom in their own accord. And, like all Frey’s compositions, it is performed masterfully by Quatuor Bozzini with precise sensitivity for color, sound and silence in Frey’s aesthetics.

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If you want to listen to Frey and violinist Mrekel discussing the compositional process with composer Benjamin Tassie on Resonance FM: