The New Yorker, April 19, 2021
The sonic extremes of the MaerzMusik Festival (Berlin)
By Alex Ross
Amid a general trend toward ad-libitum frenzy at MaerzMusik the première of Jürg Frey’s Fourth String Quartet provided an oasis of focussed stillness. Frey, who is from Aarau, Switzerland, writes chamber music that seems to pick up where Shostakovich’s left off, in a realm where Romantic harmony has decayed into beautiful, half-buried ruins. The Fourth Quartet is especially notable for its coda, in which a soft, low C-sharp is plucked out more than a hundred times on the cello, like a muffled clock, while the violins and viola grasp at ghostly chords.
The Guardian, December 17, 2015
Jürg Frey: Third String Quartet CD review — an audaciously fragile performance
By Kate Molleson
The group’s recording of the half-hour piece is beautiful for the up-close, quiet, grainy realness of the string timbres
Swiss composer Jürg Frey said recently that all good music should be felt in some part of the body, and that his music is intended to be felt just inside of the ear drum. It’s a neat image from the master of calm instrumental textures — a Wandelweiser group composer who explores silence as much as sound and writes egoless music that feels as though it’s always existed. Montréal’s Bozzini Quartetgave a virtuosically still performance of his Third String Quartet at this year’s Huddersfield Contemporary Music festival, and the group’s recording of the half-hour piece is beautiful for the up-close, quiet, grainy realness of the string timbres, every bow hair and every arm quiver audible. It’s an audaciously fragile performance. Also on the disc is an earlier Frey work, Unhörbare Zeit(Inaudible Times), made of danker chords and even longer open vistas.
New York Times 2017/08/07
On Friday, the Bozzini Quartet gave a program that is already represented a recording though when it comes to the frequently quiet and sparely organized work of Mr. Frey, the music’s presence in a concert hall can lend an extra degree of magic. With the Bozzini players and two percussionists stranded at far edges of the resonant DiMenna hall, the repeating motifs from Mr. Frey’s 2006 piece “Unhörbare Zeit” (“Inaudible Time”) sounded unusually lavish. Even better was his String Quartet No. 3, written in 2014. Though the work is as superficially reserved as Mr. Frey’s other pieces, it takes flight in surprising ways. Toward the end, a brief viola solo attained a moody grandeur worthy of the late Romantics.
The Financial Times, November 29th 2017
Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival 2017
By Josh Spero
In Frey’s Late Silence (2017), the ensemble pulled simple, quiet two-note phrases from the hush, calling and replying to one another, leading and holding back, before warm harmonies emerged as several instruments took up a single note and let it fade away. Despite the sparseness of the material, it felt purposeful and secure… The result was meditative, questioning, universal, spiritual. It actually sounded like fragments echoing down the centuries.” ★★★★★
The Financial Times, November 29th 2017
The Wire, 1 October 2015
Grizzana and other pieces
By Nick Caine
Sheffield label Another Timbre is enjoying a bumper 2015, with John Tilbury and Philip Thomas’s marvellous double set of Morton Feldman’s piano works followed by a succession of standout releases from Frank Denyer, Common Objects, Magnus Granberg and James Saunders. The momentum is maintained with this substantial overview of the recent work of Jürg Frey, a Swiss composer who has a long and prolific association with the Wandelweiser imprint and collective.
Any typecast notions of spartan silence and schematic conceptualism are immediately dashed by ‘Grizzana and Other Pieces’, whose beguiling series of compositions are predicated to a surprising degree on conventional tonality, follow a discernible linear compositional logic, and happily deploy simple intervals and unadorned harmonic constructs to explore transparent contrasts in pitch and textural relationships. All ten may be Wandelweiser-like in their self-imposed limitations – most obviously a slowness of pacing and clear structural restraints – yet each is in different ways intensely sensuous, as well as preternaturally alert to the acoustic potential of spatial and dimensional divergences.
Performed sensitively by Ensemble Grizzana, the album is an epic study of fragile balances, to borrow one of the set’s titles. Even its most complex and multi-layered works – ‘Extended Circular Music No.8’ for septet and the seven part title track for sextet, both from 2014 – sound perilously collapsible and feather-light, assembling string and wind-drones and piano detailing into melodic convergences and shimmeringly dense drone harmonics.
‘A Memory of Perfection’ for solo violin from 2010 focuses on more stridulent textures, and other pieces examine degrees of fragmentation. ‘Lieues d’ombres’ for solo piano is a pointillistic arrangement of limpid chords, whose shifts in rhythmic patterns and mutating melodic linkages subtly though persistently threaten disintegration. The 31 minute ‘Area of Three’ for clarinet, piano and cello, falls apart before reconfiguring, its middle passage a flow of abstracted gestures separated by bouts of silence.
Harmony has the final say, however. Both discs are bookended by readings of ‘Petit fragment de paysage’ for duo, each by a different instrumental configuration. Simple in form, yet meticulously focused and detailed, its sustained chords and drones overlap in simple yet powerful, almost profound melodic confluences and counterpoints, in the process speaking eloquently to the virtues of restraint and engagement with tradition.”
Grammophone April 2016
Grizzana and Other Pieces / Another Timbre M b AT86 (155’ • DDD)
Circles and Landscapes / Another Timbre F AT91 (77’ • DDD)
By Philip Clark
I listened to these two sets of instrumental and solo piano works by the Swiss composer Jürg Frey in instalments over the space of a week, and his music’s capacity to linger – to evolve inside the inner ear once the sounds themselves have breathed their last – leaves a nourishing post-listening afterglow.
As a card-carrying member of the Wandelweiser composer collective, founded in 1992 to ponder those existentialist compositional questions raised by John Cage’s 4'33", Frey’s music privileges active listening over mere hearing. Ferne Farben (‘Distant Colours’, 2013) allows recordings of sounds captured from the environment licence to coexist alongside the blaring, turned-up quiet of glacially moving, hushed block chords scored for a characteristic Frey ensemble: flute, clarinet, organ, piano and string trio.
4'33" issued a reminder of the importance of environment – that music might just be the temporary frame we choose to place around the resonant harmonies and engine-room rhythms of real life, an idea that Frey has cunningly repurposed. Now the incidental hubbub, a genteel chorale of ambient breeze meets background babble punctuated by the occasional car horn, orchestrates and tints the instrumental...music? In the listening, it’s more as if Frey’s field recordings exhibit the harmonic tension and release we would normally ascribe to music as those instrumental sounds disperse into the surrounding atmosphere.
Ferne Farben – philosophically and sonically – represents Frey at his most explicitly Cageian, but each piece has a deep mystery of its own to communicate. On Philip Thomas’s disc of solo piano music, Extended Circular Music No 9 (2014-15) is a harmonic synecdoche. Frey’s harmonic sequences might evoke the over-ripe, ersatz Romanticism of a Broadway torch song or Barbra Streisand ballad, except that the transitionary connective passing-note tissue has been removed and suddenly these overly familiar harmonic phrases are governed by outside rules. Chromatic notes sigh, but the harmonic cushioning rarely falls where you anticipate. Then this cycle of harmonic dependency is abruptly broken: a single, high-register line ruminates obsessively around a narrow bandwidth of intervals, through which the underlying overtone series of the piano floats into view.
Overly candied Frey is invariably a disaster and Thomas’s deadpan distance feels absolutely right, a mood sustained throughout the standout Area of Three (2013). Reverberant cello drones set the scene as sustained interjections from piano, later clarinet, turn permutations like a harmonic Rubik’s cube. But then the delicate knit falls apart. Dressed up grace notes have nowhere to go. Piano chords are abandoned in silence. And the less material Frey utilises, the harder you listen.