Brett Dean and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra have enjoyed a close and fruitful collaboration for many years, with Dean appearing in the orchestra's concert pogrammes as composer as well as conductor.
Now one of today's most performed composers of his generation, Dean often draws on literary, political or visual stimuli in his works. Examples of this are his award-winning violin concerto The Lost Art of Letter Writing (recorded on BIS-2016), inspired by four historic letters, as well as his appeal against environmental degradation, the Pastoral Symphony, which Dean conducts on a previous disc with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra (BIS-1576). On the present release, Shadow Music is, according to the composer himself, 'in no way consciously descriptive', but in its three movements can be heard realizations in sound of various concepts and definitions of the word shadow, such as 'dark shape or partial darkness', 'the shadow of his former self' and 'indistinct, suspect'. The work Short Stories is inspired not by specific texts, but of the literary genre which in a highly condensed form depicts the variety of life. The five brief pieces – the fourth and longest, Komarov's last words, has a duration of little over three minutes – carry titles which allow the listener to give his own imagination free rein. Testament has a more specific inspiration – Beethoven's famous 'Heiligenstadt Testament' in which the composer bemoans his encroaching deafness.
Though an imaginative use of the orchestra, including unorthodox playing
techniques, Dean simulates the sound of Beethoven's quill moving over the paper, but lets us also experience his aural hallucinations. The work is here preceded by Dean's arrangement of the Adagio from Beethoven's first Razumovsky quartet, composed some four years after the Heiligenstadt crisis. But the disc opens with Etüdenfest, a virtuosic, ironical play with mismatched snippets from standard string methods by such figures as Sevcik and Schradieck. In the work, Dean turns the monotonous and lonely grind of a practising musician into a vibrant shared experience – the etude turns festive.