"Few are prepared", wrote The Strad, "for the sensational panache, dazzling virtuosity and sheer musicianship that characterizes the Demenga brothers' playing", and Gramophone magazine has hailed the Swiss cellists' playing as "spectacularly assured". Patrick Demenga ( b. 1962) and Thomas Demenga (b. 1954 ) make an im-pact, wherever they play. "Lux Aeterna" is their second combined New Series recording, following the critically acclaimed double-album "12 Hommages à Paul Sacher" released in 1995, and it is the first ECM recording to feature them actually playing together. (On the Sacher discs they had shared the programme between them).
Each of the cellist brothers is secure in his own reputation and continues to lead a distinguished solo career; the duo exists to celebrate their shared commitment for music from the baroque to the present day. Theirs is, how-ever, an unusual instrumental combination, and strong cello duo repertoire being in short supply, the Demengas have commissioned pieces from outstanding contemporary composers - and composers, in turn, have also dedi-cated works to them.
Alexander Knaifel casts the Demenga brothers as "psalm singers" in the title composition "Lux Aeterna", a piece he likens to a requiem. The composer, whose music has been described by the Frankfurter Rundschau as "one of the most important revelations of recent years", has a special insight into the demands and possibilities of the violoncello. Knaifel was originally a cellist, and studied with Emmanuel Fishman in Leningrad and Mstislav Rostropovich in Moscow before embarking upon his path as a composer. He now belongs to that circle of near-contemporaries and associates from the ex-Soviet lands which includes Pärt, Kancheli, Tigran Mansurian, Val-entine Silvestrov and Sofia Gubaidulina.
"Lux Aeterna" takes as its inspirational starting point fragments of ten psalms, emphasising praise and repen-tance. It is music of spectral quality. Subtle, mysterious, it seems to underline Knaifel's self-description as "a stranger in this time and place." More prosaically, he was born in 1943 in Tashkent, and grew up and continues to live in St Petersburg.
London-born and Ireland-based composer Barry Guy wrote "Redshift" (the term is borrowed from the terminol-ogy of particle physics) for Patrick and Thomas Demenga. The piece is also dedicated to the memory of Guy's mentor, the composer/conductor Buxton Orr. Guy writes "What works for light waves also works for sound waves. It is the idea of gravitation towards similar material and minute frequency changes that lies behind this piece for two cellos. In the act of playing unison material, coloration of the pitch and characteristics of the in-struments reveal themselves. Slight shifts in pitch and texture have an almost destabilising effect upon the lis-tener...The piece is meditative in character although there are moments of intense activity like giant outbursts of x-rays emanating from a black hole way out in space." "Intense activity" characterizes Guy's output as both a composer and an improviser and there are aspects of "Redshift" that encourage a quasi-improvisational approach to sections of the score. Notation is often deliberately ambiguous and in places the players are offered a choice of material, to be delivered with "maximum activity". Elsewhere, and in the quieter moments, the cello bow is abandoned in favour of the water colour painting brush (squirrel or badger bristles preferred). "The idea of using the brush is to create a very soft envelope to the shape of the emitted sounds."
Thomas Demenga's own "Duo' O Du...", originally written in response to a film music commission, is also a work that permits the performers a measure of improvisational leeway. "Practically all of my compositions have a section where the written score suddenly stops and the player has to ad lib", says the elder Demenga. "The audience needn't notice the transition: I consider an improvisation good when the music breaks through the ri-gidity of the written score and then returns to the score imperceptibly." As for the odd title, "I find it appealing to make a title into a little composition of its own, with a pun for example..." Thomas Demenga was already estab-lished as a soloist and a chamber musician before he began to compose music, writing his first piece at the age of 30 in 1984. In 1991 he won First Prize at the Tribune International des compositeurs in Paris for his composition "Solo per due".
Roland Moser was born in the Demenga's hometown of Berne in 1943, and studied with Sandor Veress and Wolfgang Fortner. The musics of Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Webern were important for his musical develop-ment, although he went on to more radical experiments with electronics, music for political documentary films, literary text-setting, tape and mixed media. A recurring motive in his work is the playful redeployment of his-torical elements. In "Wendungen" the cellists move from beating on their instruments and strident pizzicato through increasingly sophisticated bowed passages until the cellos finally "sing" - their true function, in Moser's view. For the purposes of this piece the instruments are tuned differently, one a tone lower than the other.
Jean Barrière's Sonata no. 10 in G major is one of those breakthrough pieces almost characteristic of the baroque in which instrumental facility is challenged to rise to the demands of the work. Barrière (born around 1705 in, probably, Bordeaux) was the peerless virtuoso cellist of his age, and his sonatas with their arpeggiated chords, multiple stops and brilliant virtuoso passages extending into the upper ranges continue to present daunting tech-nical problems even to the most skilled players. Barrière's tenth sonata has been a staple of the Demenga broth-ers' repertoire from the beginning of the duo's history.