Music of Ursula Mamlok, Vol. 5 — A study in contrasts

Volume five of Bridge Record’s Ursula Mamlok survey is a study in contrasts. Mamlok moved from a neo-classical style at the start of her career in the 1940s to a highly personal version of atonality by the time of her death in 2016. This release presents some of Mamlok’s earliest compositions, as well as some of her latest. Stylistically, there’s a significant change, but not aesthetically. Throughout the music on this release, there’s a certain consistency of organization.

As Mamlok wrote: “music should convey the various emotions in it with clarity and conviction. It interests me to accomplish this with a minimum of material, transforming it in such multiple ways so as to give the impression of ever-new ideas that are like the flowers of a plant, all related yet each one different.”

The first four works on the disc were written in the 1940s and are perhaps the most accessible compositions in the program. The 1942 piano sonata is a charming post-romantic work that reminds me of a chromatic Gerald Finzi. The 1943 Allegro for Violin and Piano plays with the concept of tonality by refusing to alight on a particular key center for any length of time yet still sounding tonal. The Birds Dream (1944) and the Molto vivo (1947) are similarly constructed. All of these works are quite short, reflecting Mamlok’s desire to use the minimal  material.

To my ears, the 1977 Sextet sounds a little dated. It’s a work from the mid-point of Mamlok’s career and shows her interest in atonality. But the atonal organization seems a little too much in the forefront. While Mamlok continually transforms her material, it seems more intellectual than emotional expression — especially compared to the 1940s works that precede it.

Most interesting to me are the late works: the Five Fantasy Pieces for oboe and string trio, Above Clouds for viola and piano, and Breezes for clarinet and piano quartet. In these pieces, composed between 2013 and 2015, Mamlok seems to have completely internalized her atonal aesthetic. Even though there are sudden register leaps and dramatic dynamic contrasts, the music seems to flow naturally from one event to the next.

The works were recorded with a variety of artists in several different venues. Yet there’s a consistent overall sound to the release. Another excellent installment in this series.

Music of Ursula Mamlok, Volume 5
Sonata for piano solo (1942), The Birds Dream (1944), Molto Vivo (1947) – Holger Groschopp, piano;
Allegro for Violin and Piano (1943), Sonata for Violin and Piano (1989) – Kolja Lessing violin; Holger Groschopp, piano
Sextet (1977) – Parnassus; Anthony Korf, conductor
Rückblick (2002) – Frank Lunte, alto saxophone; Tatjana Blome, piano
Fünf Phantasiestücje (2013/14) – Heinz Holliger, oboe; Hanna Weinmeister, violin; Jürg Dähler, viola; Daniel Haefliger, violoncello
Above Clouds (2013/14) – Harmut Rohde, viola; Holger Groschopp, piano
Breezes (2015)  – Musicians of Spectrum Consorts Berlin
Bridge Records 9457

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