CATALOG nemu 023
Norbert Rodenkirchen – transverse flutes
Recorded and mastered: March & April 2020 at Topaz Studio, Cologne by Reinhard Kobialka. Cover photo by Valentin Overchenko. Inside photo by Jana Jocif
Liner notes by David Grubbs. Produced by Albrecht Maurer & Norbert Rodenkirchen. ℗ + © 2020 .
Echoes are prized for their fullness of sound, but they also have the power to disorient. As the listener begins to make sense of Norbert Rodenkirchen’s newest solo recital—to make their way through its sprawling ten-century itinerary—two spatial metaphors predominate: the echo and the labyrinth. Both terms speak to the ways in which bringing archaic music to bear upon contemporary performance by definition involves various disorientations with regard to time—creative, purposeful disorientations that can be artistically satisfying and, for the listener, deeply pleasurable.
Medieval Echoes encloses its selection of works within a labyrinth as the album begins with, periodically returns to, and concludes with a series of compositions by Rodenkirchen with the collective title Labyrinths of Sound. These more incantatory, meditative works not only introduce as well as provide a counterpoint to the rest of the album’s repertoire, but also in their luxuriant slowness and stillness invite the listener to focus on the very means of sound production of the medieval transverse flute, and even the subjectivity behind the production of a single tone. The generous pacing of these pieces provides an opportunity for reflection and concentrated listening that contrasts with the vigor and economy of a number of the historical pieces in this collection.
In addition to being a superlative musical technician, Rodenkirchen represents a unique combination of musical and scholarly imagination. Before rededicating this program’s labyrinthine journey with the selection of medieval works that is at its core, he slips in a particular gem of his own devising, Puncti, a minimalistic exploration of patterns based on two-octave scales that coordinates between the Labyrinths’ explorations of sonority and the suite of five compositions from the 13th century. The collection’s most dramatic leap back in time occurs with the 11thcentury Tractus iocularis (literally, “the tract of the minstrel”), of which Rodenkirchen has remarked that this example of neumed notation, appearing in the Winchester Troper, could well be the earliest preserved minstrel tune in history. The suite of 13thcentury works that follows raises the question of which of these pieces did in fact accompany dance and which were instead intended for spiritual contemplation, as described by Johannes de Grocheio in his contemporary treatise De musica. In conversation with the author of these notes, Rodenkirchen summarized the relevance of both of these distinct functions, making the point that “both aspects (contemplation and ecstasy) are essentially necessary to get a well-informed but still imaginative sound picture of medieval instrumental music.”
Perhaps the most surprising inclusion within this recital is Rodenkirchen’s composition Mouvements, the longest work in the collection, and one originally written for bass recorder. In an arresting moment within Mouvements, multiphonic playing suddenly appears as if for the first time, and the listener comes to understand the sound-producing properties of the transverse flute differently; previously unencountered dissonances and wider intervallic leaps henceforth become part of the musician’s vocabulary. Thus far on Medieval Echoes we’ve been able to engage in the thought experiment or compelling illusion that as listeners we’re hearing medieval music as contemporary music, and that the centuries of musical developments that will follow these compositions have yet to have transpired. And then, in a moment, they do. It’s a striking shift: the listener is reminded of the current musical culture of which Norbert Rodenkirchen plays a part, and that his education and that the resources that he draws upon as a performer extend into the 21st century.
The remainder of the pieces on Medieval Echoes speak to the fact that not only do we encounter Medieval music in performance through the sensibility of a contemporary artist, but that musicians also draw upon the meanings of Medieval music at different points along the way, as is the case with Rodenkirchen’s arrangement of Douce dame, a 13thcentury composition that arrives via its inclusion in Yvette Guilbert’s 1926 collection Chanteries du moyen-âge, which matched Medieval melodies with distinctively late-Romantic harmonizations. The echoes that resonate throughout this program of material make for the invigorating experience—the invigorating challenge—of having to discern from whence these multiple evocations of the Medieval originate, and how they become instantiated anew in these marvelous performances by Norbert Rodenkirchen.
David Grubbs, Brooklyn , April 2020