Douglas Knehans: Cloud Ossuary. Brno Philharmonic Orchestra / Mikel Toms. © 2022 Ablaze Records

CD Spotlight

An Almost Unworldly Acceptance and Peace

GEOFF PEARCE is inspired by 'Cloud Ossuary' and 'Mist Waves' - music by Douglas Knehans

'Pavel Wallinger and the Brno Philharmonic strings deliver a very beautifully controlled performance.'


Douglas Knehans (born 1957) is an important living composer whose music is quite widely performed in many countries of the world. He has written in a wide range of genres and his music is attractive and approachable. This recording presents two works from 2019, Mist Waves: a chaconne for solo violin and string orchestra, and his Cloud Ossuary - Symphony No 4. There are excellent notes in the booklet which explain the meaning of the works, and the booklet also includes the poem by the composer's daughter, Katerina Knehans - Bones and All, which inspired the composition of the symphony.

The composer describes Mist Waves as a 'kind of loose chaconne' based on an eight bar phrase, and was inspired by the clouds that appear above landscapes and form waves. The opening is quiet and gently reflective, with a soaring violin against a slowly pulsating string accompaniment. The mood is maintained throughout, and the variation showing the gently shifting quality of these cloud waves, is reflected by whereabouts in its range the solo violin is playing. This is a very meditative work that I find relaxing and satisfying. Pavel Wallinger and the Brno Philharmonic strings deliver a very beautifully controlled performance.

Listen — Douglas Knehans: Mist Waves
(ar-00062 track 1, 3:46-4:41) ℗ 2022 Ablaze Records :

The Cloud Ossuary – Douglas Knehans' Fourth Symphony - is in three movements of increasing length. The first movement, 'The Ossein Cage', is described by the composer as a 'vigorous and somewhat failed rant against containment'. It starts slowly and almost imperceptively but gains in momentum and volume. This depicts an attempt to escape a cage of dead bone, at first exploratory and tentative, but rising to a state of desperation. This is a great movement displaying the composer's fine orchestration skills. The end of the movement is calm, perhaps reflecting that the escape has failed and the imprisoned is worn out.

Listen — Douglas Knehans: The Ossein Cage (Cloud Ossuary)
(ar-00062 track 2, 6:12-7:01) ℗ 2022 Ablaze Records :

The second movement, 'Breathe Clouded', is a veiled slow movement, in contrast to the first rather anguished movement. It presents a somewhat dark reflection with a rather dreamlike feeling of unease sometimes surfacing, before falling back into the dream-like meditation. The whole work is nebulous and veiled and there is some beautifully effective writing. There is some stand out solo writing for cor anglais in this movement and this is often mirrored by the solo trumpet.

Listen — Douglas Knehans: Breathe Clouded (Cloud Ossuary)
(ar-00062 track 3, 4:42-5:33) ℗ 2022 Ablaze Records :

The final movement, 'Bones and All', employs the voice of Judith Weusten and is longer than both the two previous movements. Elements of the first two movements are employed here (such as the cor anglais melody of the second movement), as well as the poem on which the symphony is based.

At the third section, following the structure of the poem, the music livens and elements of the first movement make themselves felt.

Listen — Douglas Knehans: Bones and All (Cloud Ossuary)
(ar-00062 track 4, 8:52-9:39) ℗ 2022 Ablaze Records :

There is anguish and struggle here but this subsides and becomes mournful as the narrator is looking at the dead body and rearranging it so that it looks more peaceful.

This is a deeply felt and finely conceived work, and in concept and in many places I find parallels with the last movement of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde. There is sorrow and resignation here, but also hope. The fourth verse is almost exultant, rather in the manner of a Bach chorale prelude. The final two lines of the poem end the work with an almost unworldly acceptance and peace.

Listen — Douglas Knehans: Bones and All (Cloud Ossuary)
(ar-00062 track 4, 19:17-20:16) ℗ 2022 Ablaze Records :

On hearing these two works, I felt inspired and hopeful for the future of classical music, as they are unpretentious and a great example of what contemporary music can be. The performances by all concerned, especially the soprano and violin soloists, as well as the direction and great orchestra leave me wanting to hear more of this composer and his works. I think this recording will have wide appeal and I hope to hear much more of the composer's works. I also commend the recording quality and informative booklet that accompanies it.

Copyright © 16 August 2022 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia






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