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Conlon Nancarrow

Studies for Player Piano arr. Raaf Hekkema

Calefax Reed Quintet/Ivo Janssen piano

MDG 619 1548-2

This CD represents a defining moment in instrumental playing development in this new century. Nancarrow despaired of performing musicians being capable of following the complexity of his musical thinking, so he devoted his later life to printing out his musical conceptions by punching holes in paper rolls for pianolas, which reproduced his daunting rhythmic creations at superhuman playing velocities. He never envisaged live performances by real musicians, but Calefax Reed Quintet shows here that now it is not beyond possibility for well trained musicians.

The present disc has several nostalgic connections for us. It is dedicated to Jan Wolff founder of De Ijsbreker in Amsterdam, an important venue for new music where we have spent many happy hours. Upon his resignation in 2008, Calefax played some of this music by Wolff's favourite composer, to whom he had been introduced by Yvar Mikhashoff, co-director of London's Almeida Festival of Contemporary Music, which was important to me in the '80s and where I met Nancarrow.

The selection is nicely varied with slow pieces as well as vertiginous speedsters, and there are two part studies to interpose some aural relaxation.

A moving picture is better than a hundred words, so see these marvellous players in an immaculate rendering of Nancarrow's Study no 3 on YouTube.

One of the most exciting discs of the year, surely, and a challenge for advanced wind students at the colleges.

Peter Grahame Woolf

See also: Pianolas & Reproducing Pianos

Calefax Live:

Calefax Reed Quintet
Oliver Boekhoorn oboe
Ivar Berix clarinet
Raaf Hekkema saxophone
Jelte Althuis bass clarinet
Alban Wesly bassoon

Bach Goldberg Variations BWV988 (arr. Raaf Hekkema)

Wigmore Hall Monday 22 June 2009

This was an exceptional concert, which received astonished acclamation from the BBC's regular lunchtime audience.

This group, which sounds very different from a normal wind quintet, has gradually built up a repertoire of arrangements, all except the bassoonist doubling on their families of instruments to create a varied sound palate.

This famous and popular work has been performed and recorded in many arrangments, several of them reviewed by Musical Pointers. Calefax's version is one of the most attractive, the contrasts in timbres making the counterpoint easy to follow.

Better than a verbal description of the delights in waiting, listen to Variation 1 taken from Goldberg Variation Highlights - www.calefax.com and then see an amazing balletic version of the Goldbergs with Calefax on stage at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCbBIHdWxy8.

Calefax's has not yet been released a complete commercial recording of the Goldbergs - this BBCR3 transmission could be heard for a week - only - on BBCR3 Listen Again.

We have been provided with a set of this great ensemble's CDs, illustrating their development over the last fifteen years or so. Bach's Art of Fugue, Rameau, Debussy & Ravel; each one is a delight, culminating with the mind boggling achievement ofbringing to concert life Nancarrow's dizzyingly complex Studies for Player Piano.

Repeating what I wrote when reviewing that landmark disc: A moving picture is better than a hundred words, so see these marvellous players in an immaculate rendering of Nancarrow's Study no 3 on YouTube.

Follow my links and enjoy ! Calefax has given us enjoyment commensurate
with Red Priest's refreshers of baroque music.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Bach, Beethoven, Debussy, Hindemith, Prokofiev etc

No CD number; enquiries to mail: info@calefax.nl

Calefax's The Music Factory is a piece of native Dutch humour which may not cross the seas? It appears to have been developed from a live "family show", premièred in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw in May 2010 and will have been a wow with children and their parents.

But collectors of this innovatve group's recordings should not ignore it. It consists of some 40 mins of delectable miniatures, mostly by such respectable composers as those listed above and arranged by members of the group and one of their relatives...

The presentation is off-putting; on the sleeve itself the titles of the pieces - black on dark brown - are almost invisible except in good light and with good eyesight.

Perhaps they should put this compilation out in two versions, one for stuffy UK oldsters?

Peter Grahame Woolf

Enjoy seeing Calefax live, playing 'Reeds' by Frederic Rzewski


If you like your Bach on piano (I don't much) Calefax Quintet's colleague Ivo Janssen is pretty good [VOID 9801] and so is Johan Hugsson [pictured], who quaintly justifies his CD because on piano "it is visually attractive as you have to cross your hands" !

He had better put it onto DVD? PGW