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Latest From Eva-Maria Houben On Edition Wandelweiser

John Eyles By

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The last 2017 batch of releases from the Edition Wandelweiser label consisted of six albums including one by the Swiss duo of Cyril Bondi and d'incise, a double album of piano pieces by the late Hermann Meier played by Dominik Blum, and a chilling but intriguing Michael Winter album featuring readings from The Limits of Mathematics by Gregory Chaitin, accompanied by sound samples from an impressive cast. However, the remaining three albums of the batch were all by pianist-organist-composer Eva-Maria Houben, a long-standing Wandelweiser member whose music has mainly been issued on Edition Wandelweiser or, in recent years, her own Diafani label. Showcasing different aspects of her work, the three latest albums combine to create an impressive picture of Houben. Thankfully, this influx of music provides a perfect reason to focus on her....

Eva-Maria Houben
Voice with Piano
Edition Wandelweiser
2017

Recorded in March 2016, Voice with Piano is true to its title. It features Houben as performer and composer, performing three of her compositions, playing piano alongside soprano Irene Kurka. The disc opens with the three-part "Adagio" with text by the Belgian Felix Timmermans (1886-1947), sung in the original Flemish. So, non-Flemish speakers will not get the literal meaning of the words but, thanks to Kurka's expressive singing, their drama and emotion is all too clear. The piano and vocals perform separately, allowing their individual melodies to be clearly heard. By contrast, on "Lyrik," with text in German by Hilde Domin, Houben opted for the piano to accompany the voice, the two combining well, with the piano effectively framing and supporting the voice.

The album is dominated by the five-part "Songs for the Island" ("Lieder für die Insel"), with Houben's own text, which runs for over twenty minutes, the lion's share of the album. The piece is unmistakably from the Wandelweiser stable, its single notes surrounded by silences being one tell-tale sign. Although the parts are distinctly different, a recurring motif of a single note struck repeatedly ties the five together into a unified, satisfying whole, a mark of Houben's skills as a composer.

Eva-Maria Houben, Rebecca Lane, Samuel Dunscombe
Observing Objects
Edition Wandelweiser
2017

Observing Objects is in stark contrast to Voice with Piano in several ways and it helps expand the picture of Houben and her music. Once again, she is featured both as performer and composer, this time playing in the company of Samuel Dunscombe on bass clarinet and Rebecca Lane on bass flute, on recordings dating from May 2017. Ingeniously, the album consists of two versions of the title piece, the first with Houben on organ, the second on piano, each one lasting about twenty-nine minutes. The 2017 co-composition with Dunscombe and Lane contrasts dramatically with the older, more classical pieces on Voice with Piano, at times sounding as if could have been improvised rather than through-composed.

On the first version, all three instruments play prolonged notes that overlap and, because of their similar sounds, blend to create a richly-detailed but ever-shifting soundscape that would have satisfied many a listener if it had filled the entire CD. On the second version, the piano is higher than the wind instruments, but they play higher to accommodate it, the three instruments being more distinguishable than on the preceding version. As versions of the same piece, the two work well side by side, complementing each other and highlighting the composition's strengths. This CD is a good starting place to hear Houben.

Eva-Maria Houben
Voice with Harp
Edition Wandelweiser
2017

Although credited to Houben, as all of its compositions are hers, she does not play on Voice with Harp which is performed by the duo of harpist Christine Kazarian and soprano Tatiana Kuzina. Recorded in April and August 2017, the album opens with the 2009 solo harp piece "Aeolian Harp" on which Kazarian gives a fine performance that highlights its sheer beauty.

In an inspired piece of programming, the album features both "Adagio" and "Songs for the Island" from Voice with Piano, allowing for comparisons of the pieces with the different instruments. Unsurprisingly, despite subtle differences between the versions, both pieces work just as well with harp as with piano. It would be senseless to say that one version is "better" than the other, because to appreciate them as compositions both versions should be heard at length.

Another intriguing choice is the inclusion of "Two Songs with Piano" here. The pieces may have been composed with piano in mind, but the versions here show them to be ideal for harp and voice. The remaining track, "Hatid," again displays the simple, uncluttered beauty that typifies so many Houben compositions.

Taken together, these three releases make a varied and fascinating introduction to Houben. With every track being of a high standard, they make a strong case for her being better known and appreciated. Highly recommended.

Tracks and Personnel

Voice with Piano

Tracks: Adagio: 1; 2; 3; Lyrik; Lieder für die Insel (Songs for the Island): 1; 2; 3; 4; 5.

Personnel: Irene Kurka: soprano; Eva-Maria Houben: piano.

Observing Objects

Tracks: Observing objects (bass flute, bass clarinet, organ); Observing objects (bass flute, bass clarinet, piano).

Personnel: Samuel Ekkehardt Dunscombe: bass clarinet; Rebecca Lane: bass flute; Eva-Maria Houben: organ, piano.

Voice with Harp

Tracks: Aeolian Harp; Adagio: 1; 2; 3; Hatid; Two Songs with Piano: 1; 2; Songs for the Island: 1; 2; 3; 4; 5.

Personnel: Tatiana Kuzina: soprano; Christine Kazarian: harp.

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