This recording is the first ever devoted to the orchestral music of Christian Wolff (b. 1934) and thus documents a little-known aspect of his wide-ranging work. John, David (1998) introduces in its second part a prominent role for solo percussionist, playing a wide range of pitched and non-pitched instruments, including marimba, glockenspiel, a variety of drums, wood and metal instruments and other sources, the exact choice left to the performer. Rhapsody (2009), in contrast, uses instruments of the traditional Western orchestra without percussion, divided into three separate ensembles and reordered into unusual combinations and relationships, both within and between the groups.
In his essay On Charles Ives (1990) Wolff remarks that in the mid-1970s he had a sudden sense of his own work as “an odd sort of mix of Ives and Satie.” He refers to Ives’s “readiness to draw upon whatever sources are useful”; the tendency to include altered versions of popular music and hymn tunes is a feature they have in common. The unlikely conjunction of Ives and Satie may provide a clue to such disparities as are evident in these orchestral pieces: Sections reminiscent of the density and complexity of Ives, of the simplicity and directness of Satie, and of the transparency of Webern, are juxtaposed without any need to mediate or explain how they are connected. The music is continually surprising, exhilarating, and challenging; it resists easy categorisation. Sometimes engagingly direct and transparent, at other times bewilderingly complex and profuse, it invites listeners to be alert to new kinds of musical experience, to suspend judgement based on more familiar models. There is a sense of immediacy that deliberately avoids any suggestion of a general plan or underlying theoretical principle; the controlling idea of a “grand narrative” such as is associated with composers of the European avant-garde is explicitly rejected in favour of a variety of ad hoc procedures.