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Dip Your Ears, No. 170 (Alexander Goehr at 80)

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Alexander Goehr, When Adam Fell, Pastorals, Marching to Carcassonne
P.Serkin / O.Knussen / BBC SO, London Sinfonietta

Wiry and Ingratiating

Alexander Goehr studied with Birtwistle and Maxwell Davies, which roughly, imperfectly, sets the stage for his telling pronouncements that he writes “music so people can understand why some notes follow and other’s don’t” and that he believes “that certain values are universal and unalterable.” Unusual words from a 20th century establishment modernist. Following his 80th birthday, Naxos has issued this mini-retrospective of three works spanning nearly half a century. When Adam Fell (2011) is based on the bass line of Bach’s eponymous Chorale (BWV637) without sounding like it. Gabrieli stood a distant model for the brassy, abstract Pastorals (1965), while Mozart inspired the Grand Partitaesque scoring (if nothing else) of the groovy, intermittently lyrical Marching to Carcassonne (2002). It’s very fine, smartly ingratiating yet challenging music eminently worth to listen to.