When one thinks of the work of the Wandelweiser label’s composers, one might imagine an ultrafragile, moment-to-moment formlessness that hovers indefinitely for a piece’s duration—any given sonority is somehow equivalent to any other. Mark Hannesson’s new disc of solo piano, Angels, is a reminder that Wandelweiser neither represents a school of thought nor a singular musical sensibility, but constitutes a community of like-minded creators.
The Angel’s Game is as quiet, spacious, and amorphous as one would anticipate, but with its slow, trickling phrases it might even pass for a solo improv record. In fact, the loose, elegant shaping, peculiar harmonic choices, and laissez-faire approach to repetition and variation might even call to mind Paul Bley—though Hannesson’s music is considerably less dense. The first part of the almost-fifty-minute piece spends prolonged periods in the uppermost register of the piano. Yet the ears almost contract around that spectral region—nothing seems to be missing. Around the half-way point, when lower figures enter the aural picture, the ear feels astoundingly sensitized to this new information. The opening of the registral palette also signals a shift toward a vaguely more sombre and fragmentary tenor.
The other work, the nineteen-minute Memory Sustained, has a similar questioning, asymmetrical, and ultimately phrase-oriented flow, but it takes on a sterner edge with its more angular gestures and, at points, strident dynamic choices.
Pianist Roger Admiral takes a suitably sensitive and evocative approach to this music—more so than some might be inclined to, given the performance practice around this particular branch of contemporary music. Yet his delivery, while expressive, remains sympathetic to the music’s call for space. It’s an intriguing choice that highlights the idiosyncrasies of Hannesson’s music.
Tempting as it might be for some to stereotype Wandelweiser recordings, this album is one of many instances proving the collective to be fundamentally plural and dynamic, while sharing some common interests.