Album Reviews

Hauschka – Ferndorf

(FatCat) UK release date: 22 September 2008


The prepared piano is Volker Bertelmann’s speciality in his work as Hauschka, though he treats the instrument in a rather different manner to that of the celebrated John Cage.

There were no holds barred in Cage’s manipulation of the instrument, which often looked like the product of an intense course in metalwork once the composer had finished with it. The sounds produced after all this work were nothing short of revelatory – but it isn’t the style of Hauschka to pursue that approach.

Instead he stays true to the base timbre of the instrument, sharpening its attack to secure a relatively brittle sound, bringing the instrument’s percussive abilities to the fore and brightening the treble end of the sound.

To that he adds strings, supplanting the sound with a richness of timbre by often using the lower register of the cello. The piano remains as the principal instrument, but the string lines wind in and out, with occasional interventions from brass to enhance the colours.

The tactic works well, as in the faster passages the music trips along with the purpose of early Michael Nyman, though retains an elusive air thanks to an allowance for what appears to be free improvisation. This is best when the cello sits in its fulsome lower register, though can occasionally cloy and lose direction – Morgenrot becoming example of a piece that starts to go round in ever-widening circles.

Sch�nes Madchen is notable for its harmonic beauty, and the sound Bertelmann finds is one to luxuriate in. By contrast the preceding Nadelwald is impressively fired up but sounds far more academic, feeling like the product of an exercise rather than something emotional. Rode Null, meanwhile, is a good example of a piece germinating from a simple phrase and bass note, striking a genial likeness in its eventual unison violin motif.

From this you’ll gather that Ferndorf charms and frustrates in equal measure. When it finds its range Bertelmann’s work stands up there at the forefront of classical derived minimalist composing techniques, yet when it overdoes the improvisation it feels as if it’s trying too hard. That said, Bertelmann’s work should be tracked, as the potential here is obvious.


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