Walter Fähndrich: Viola (ECM New Series 1412)

 

Walter Fähndrich
Viola

Walter Fähndrich viola
Recorded November 1989, Kirche Blumenstein, Switzerland
Engineer: Peter Laenger
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The name of Walter Fähndrich is not likely to provoke many nods of recognition. This is unfortunate, given that the Swiss composer and violist has been a fervent artist for nearly four decades. A teacher of improvisation and designer of sound installations, Fähndrich seems to prefer the indeterminacy of real-time human interaction over recordable media and gives us this rare glimpse into his open reach. The album consists of four pieces in five tracks, each simply demarcated in Roman numerals. A swaying rhythm dominates a beautiful string of overtones in “IV.” “II” distinguishes itself by its daunting 24-minute length and rapid arpeggios that work their way into a glorious spiral. Occasional passages played sul tasto (i.e., over the fingerboard) are particularly striking for their almost bell-like quality. The overall effect is nothing short of meditative. Fähndrich scrapes at the strings in “III” to produce a veritable symphony of avian peeps and insectile chirps in the album’s most organic diversion. “VI” a call-and-response of harmonics and fuller notes. To end, Fähndrich reprises “IV” in a longer take. Yet rather than closing a circle, it seems to open itself to the enchanting uncertainties of indeterminacy.

One could say that Fähndrich has done here for the viola what Paul Giger has done for the violin, if in a more “secular” vein. Whereas Giger’s cogitations soar, those of Fähndrich crawl into subterranean caverns where a neglected beauty echoes unseen. Like Giger, he makes use of extended techniques, albeit far more minimally. His bowing is precisely controlled and full of infectious energy. This was never an easy album to come by in the States, and I only got my copy during a sojourn to Vienna in the winter of 2002. Thankfully, advances in online ordering have solved that problem, which means that an entirely new generation can explore these uniquely pensive sounds.

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