Snowflakes & Car Wrecks is the latest offering from the German born pianist Volker Bertelmann, a 40-minute EP that comprises material left over from the sessions for last year’s Ferndorf. The EP manages to stand alone in its own right, with the seven pieces here each offering subtle developments on that wonderful album’s sound.
There is a clarity of vision here that Ferndorf, for all its excellence, sometimes lacked. As with all his work Bertelmann’s prepared piano is placed centre stage, with the home-made modifications allowing him to elicit a rich variety of harmonic and percussive sounds from the instrument.
The opening Ginsterweg rarely deviates from its two chord structure but builds into an atmospheric piece worthy of the great Steve Reich, before stuttering into a wonderful fake finale.
Eisblume (literal translation: ‘frost pattern’) introduces the cello as a counterpoint to the hammer like piano. Bertelmann frequently juxtaposes the two instruments, and here the music rises and falls with an intensity that is frequently breathtaking.
Bertelmann has frequently attracted the attention of the electronica set, and his love of dance music is all over the next track Wonder. This is a club rhythm played out by piano and strings to intoxicating effect, with a percussive beat that provides the piece’s beating heart.
Tanz may initially sound like a mess, but dig deeper and the duelling cellos and piano reveal a delightfully intricate and playful arrangement that is reminiscent of the Penguin Caf� Orchestra at their best.
Kindelsberg is the most conventional piece on the EP, with Bertelmann alone at his piano in classical mode. It provides a moment of peaceful contemplation before the lengthy Hauberg, which shifts around between various genres during its nine minute running time without losing any focus or sense of purpose.
Tagtraum plays the EP out with a ticking rhythm straight from the electronica textbook over which Bertelmann gradually builds up layers of piano and strings before returning full circle to a solitary piano chord at the end.
Snowflakes & Car Wrecks serves to cement Bertelmann’s position at the forefront of the modern classical scene, and its glacial beauty and post-modern playfulness may just attract a few more casual post-rock and electronica fans.