Reiko Füting: names, erased
New Focus Recordings

First impressions, as we all know, can be wrong: presented with Reiko Füting's names, erased, I immediately thought it might in some way be connected to the events of 9/11, given its glass skyscraper cover photo and elegiac title. In such a scenario, one imagines the German-born composer (b. 1970), like others before him, honouring the memory of those whose lives were taken on that sunny September morn fourteen years ago. Though Füting has taught composition and theory at the Manhattan School of Music since 2000, his debut full-length turns out to be a more straightforward affair in being a collection of contemporary chamber music that's neither overtly conceptual in nature nor weighted down by tragedy. If there is an overall theme, it has do with the processes of memory as well as the manner by which past works of art affect the form later works assume. It's clearly not insignificant that the Robert Rauschenberg work referenced by Füting in the titular work is the infamous 1953 piece Erased de Kooning Drawing, a choice that suggests Füting too has wrestled with the impact on his own compositional process by those who preceded him.

names, erased is a family affair, too, with his wife, mezzo-soprano Nani Füting a recurring presence on the recording, and one piece dedicated to Johann Davin Füting, presumably the couple's young son. Not only does names, erased provide a comprehensive account of Füting's breadth and interests as a composer, it's also an in-depth reflection of the cultural world he inhabits, with Bach, Berg, Boulez, Feldman, Debussy, Schumann, and Ligeti referenced in the music, as well as non-musical figures such as Rauschenberg, Elizabeth Bishop, Haruki Marukami, and Goethe. The soundworld as presented is remarkably rich, with Nani Füting joined on the recording by the Mivos Quartet, violinist Miranda Cuckson, and cellist John Popham, among others. The settings range from unaccompanied vocal, violin, and cello performances to piano duets involving clarinet, flute, and violin as well as an album-closing vocal-and-string quartet combination.

One of the album's most appealing aspects has to do with structure and sequence. In “...gesammeltes Schweigen” (“...collected silence”), five solo vocal settings of haikus (by Reiner Bonack) appear as single-minute vignettes in amongst the longer works, a strategy that allows for a refreshing degree of contrast in duration and sonority; in addition, the short piece offers a refreshing opportunity to catch one's breath after the sustained intensity of a longer work such as the cello-and-piano meditation Kaddish: The Art of Losing. Stylistically, Füting's compositions fit comfortably within the contemporary classical sphere; at the same time, they're profoundly informed by the work Bach and others produced, as shown by direct references to their works that Füting threads into his own.

The performances by all concerned are stellar throughout, but the playing of pianist Yegor Shevtsov, who provides sterling accompaniment in separate pieces to clarinetist Joshua Rubin, alto flutist Eric Lamb, and cellist John Popham, merits singling out. tanz.tanz (, which is based on an analysis of Bach's Chaconne, is enlivened by violinist Miranda Cuckson in a standout performance, and flutist Luna Kang elevates ist - Mensch - geworden (was - made - man) with a similarly memorable display. Still, highlighting individual pieces seems a tad misguided, given how much one experiences names, erased as a cumulative whole. In weaving solo and chamber settings into an encompassing whole, the collection presents as in-depth an introduction to Füting's world as could possibly be imagined.

November 2015