Sunday, 5 July 2009

Baroque and Roll

Finns Olli Vertaperko, Ere Livenon and Jonte Knif first performed the music of Frank Zappa publicly in 1995.
As students of early music, they played the Zappa piece, 'Uncle Meat', during an end of term concert; initially intended as a rag-type joke.

So much enthusiasm and interest was shown for their baroque interpretation they soon started interpreting other Zappa pieces; bringing in Jasu Moisio to add some wind to their strings and harpsichords.

By 1997 Ensemble Ambrosius, as they titled themselves, were on the road, touring Scandinavia, performing a mixed set of Zappa material and some self-penned pieces.

In 1999 they had expanded their Zappa portfolio enough to move into the studio. Fourteen months later [!] their Zappa Album was released to a decent reception, and they increased their tour schedule.
They also brought in a few more musicians, increasing their size to an octet, allowing for more complicated and bolder interpretations (their time is never wasted; as soon as a musician has finished their part they may well pick up another instrument, which is why they often sound much bigger than they actually are).

By 2002, the year of this recording, they came to Britain with a grand reputation, performing this concert for the BBC, aired on the Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert slot.

The Queen's Hall in Edinburgh allowed for a sumptuous and spacious recording, and despite a little analogue hiss the dynamics are superb; you can actually hear the bassoon player's intake of breath during the apt opener 'Uncle Meat'.

The main theme of Burnt Weeny Sandwich's 'Igor's Boogie' is played on a melodica, one of the only modern instruments the band use.
The majority of their music is played using baroque period instruments, adding a genteel quality to Zappa's often spiky material.

'Igor's Boogie' segues into 'The Black Page #2', and the band juxtapose Zappa's jazz number with a Bach piece, creating an interesting baroque mash-up.

Since The Ensemble Modern first performed 'G-Spot Tornado' as part of their Yellow Shark show in 1992, it has apparently become a firm favourite for avant garde ensembles.
With its Conlon Nancarrow-like intensity, it has become a musical quantifier, a sure way to measure excellence; and the Ensemble Ambrosius cope with it incredibly well, giving the piece an enormous injection of life, and firmly stamping it with their own identity.

I'd love to see the original staves.
Mind you, as it was originally composed for synclavier it was probably written in binary code or holes punched into cards, or something.

It's tracks like 'G-Spot Tornado' and the wonderful 'Echidna's Arf (Of You)' - in fact more so with 'Echidna's Arf (Of You)' - that really makes one aware that those such as Zappa exist on a very different level to us meagre plebeians.
I mean, just how does someone sit down and compose something like 'Echidna's Arf (Of You)'?

It's just beyond comprehension.


Ensemble Ambrosius - Queen's Hall Edinburgh, 2002.

Uncle Meat
Night School
Igor's Boogie
The Black Page #2
Zoot Allures
Big Swifty
Echidna's Arf (Of You)
G-Spot Tornado

Cassette rip of FM broadcast @320kbs
Genteel musings to be found here

1 comment:

gclot said...

cool looking forward to this i do like eastern european interpretations of zappa's music. thank you.