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Brett Dean: The Lost Art of Letter Writing Hybrid SACD, SACD

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Product details

  • Performer: Gondwana Voices, Frank Peter Zimmermann
  • Orchestra: BBC SO viola section, BBC SO & Chorus
  • Conductor: Jonathan Nott, Martyn Brabbins, David Robertson
  • Composer: Brett Dean
  • Audio CD (4 Nov. 2013)
  • Please Note: Requires SACD-compatible hardware
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: Hybrid SACD, SACD
  • Label: Bis
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 226,873 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

1. The Lost Art of Letter Writing (Violin Concerto) - Various Performers
2. Testament (for 12 violas) - Various Performers
3. Vexations and Devotions - Various Performers

Product Description

Product Description

More than most composers currently active, Brett Dean uses music to tackle political and social themes of our times. A common factor in the works on this recording is the sometimes problematic aspects of human communication and the erosion and misuse of language.


'The Lost Art of Letter Writing is Brett Dean's 2007 violin concerto that won the Grawemeyer award for composition two years later. Frank Peter Zimmermann, the violinist who gave the world premiere, plays it quite wonderfully on this first recording.' --The Guardian, 08/11/2013

'What emerges is the voice of a truly gifted composer exulting in new sounds and exciting challenges. Excellent performances.' --Classical Music, December 2013

'Brett Dean's violin concerto 'The Lost Art of Letter Writing' was composed in 2006, revised the following year and won the Grawemeyer Award in 2009...Frank Peter Zimmermann has the measure of the solo part and receives fine support from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in a wondrous surround-sound recording...a fascinating disc.' --Gramophone, January 2014

'All three performances are excellent throughout and Antje Müller's well documented insert notes are another asset to this most welcome and desirable release. It's possibly the most generous one I ever heard with a playing time well over eighty minutes. There's no loss of sound quality even when heard on a standard CD player such as mine.' --MusicWeb International

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Nobody TOP 500 REVIEWER on 21 Jan. 2014
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
The first draw of this excellent programme is the Grawemeyer Prize winning "The Lost Art of letter Writing" - a Violin Concerto in all but name. The four movements take as their starting point letters written during the nineteenth century but though the music is both poetic and descriptive it works equally well as absolute music too. The musical language is reminiscent of Berg's Violin Concerto and there are hints of quotes from Brahms in the first movement.

"Testament", the second work, is based on Beethoven's own testament following diagnosis of his deafness and the work quotes his Razumovsky Quartet. The music for the violas only includes the composer as one of the performers and recalls the musical language of Alfred Schnittke in one of his less capricious works. Short though the work is it carries plenty of expressive weight.

The final work in the programme, "Vexations and Devotions" carries on the theme of human communication, or rather the de-humanisation of it. It's a reflection of contemporary social media and communication systems, written for choir, tape, sampling and orchestra. The mood is dark almost throughout with the first movement setting a poem that reflects on the loneliness of living life through watching others on TV. The second has a chilling and increasingly surreal answer phone message as its centre piece with a seemingly more soulful poem sung by the choir in the background. However, both texts end in the same place. The finale sets the banal and chilling texts of company mission statements but ends with a ray of hope from a poem "A Path to your Door" that suggests we are all richer and more complex than the depressingly automated and commercially driven texts that precede it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Mr. K. H. Cobb on 25 Jan. 2014
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Mr. Boyes' excellent review sums this music up very well.The concerto (why not call it that?)is reminiscent of Berg, with a bit of Schoenberg thrown in, and three direct quotes from Brahms 4 in the first movement. Like the Berg (at least for me) it needs a few listenings to see what is going on, but it is a fine piece of music. The rest of the disc is at the very least interesting and unusual, the piece based around the prerecorded telephone answer becoming increasingly chilling. I can recommend the whole cd without reservation.

BIS manages to get 86 minutes onto the cd. Why can't the others? A lot of my 2 cd boxes would shrink to 1.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 1 review
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Lost Art Regained ... Grawemeyer Award Winner 2009 1 Jun. 2015
By Y.P. - Published on
Format: Audio CD
I am surprised that there is no comment on this excellent hybrid SACD, which consists of three pieces by Brett Dean, born 23 October 1961 in Brisbane, Australia. I will only comment on the first work, one of my favorite new compositions in this millennium.

Brett Dean's violin concerto "Lost Art of Letter Writing" was commissioned by the Cologne Philharmonie and Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra for violinist Frank Peter Zimmerman and was premiered in 2007 in Cologne. It is considered by many as Dean's masterpiece. The work consists of four movements. Each begins with an excerpt from a 19th-century letter, by Johannes Brahms, Vincent Van Gogh, Hugo Wolf and Australian outlaw Ned Kelly respectively. The concerto therefore is closely linked to the music tradition of the Romantic Era: There are explicit and inexplicit quotations from music by Brahms and Wolf, but more importantly it combines the brilliant surface material one expects from a 19th-century solo concerto with modern techniques to produce enormous emotional range and depth.

As I said elsewhere, I strongly believe that a composer can benefit greatly from her/his own performing experience. From 1985 to 1999, Dean was a violist in the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and this must have informed his compositions.(*)

The performance and recording in this disc are both excellent. Even though it sounds fine on the 2-channel CD track, I strongly recommend the 5-channel SACD track for best listening experience. For a comparison, the readers can go to "" for a different interpretation. (It is apparently uploaded by the violinist Sophie Rowell.)

Very highly recommended.

(*) Here lies a lesson for aspiring young composers. IMHO, some modern composers produce "obscure" pieces partly because they have not been on stage night after night, and got the first-hand experience from audience's reaction to see what "works" and what doesn't.

Note by Brett Dean (personal use only)

Not only is letter writing becoming a lost art, but one could argue that handwriting itself is an endangered skill. Aspects of my daughters' education, in particular its heavy reliance on electronic stimuli, have reinforced my view that we are genuinely losing touch with the tactile element of written communication. A recent article in an Australian newspaper points out that the proportion of personal letters amongst the total number of sent articles handled by the national postal authority, Australia Post, has declined from 50% in 1960 to 13% nowadays. Sure, we stay in touch arguably more than ever, via telephone, email and messaging, but that too has undoubtedly changed the nature of communicating.

These were then the initiating thoughts behind my Violin Concerto, `The Lost Art of Letter Writing', co-commissioned by the Cologne Philharmonie and the Stockholm Philharmonic for the esteemed soloist Frank Peter Zimmermann, to whom the work is dedicated with my great admiration. Each movement is prefaced by an excerpt from a 19th Century letter of one kind or another, ranging from private love-letter to public manifesto. Each title refers to the place and year the letter was written. The violin plays the alternate roles of both an author and a recipient of letters, but perhaps more importantly, the solo part conjures something of the mood of each of the different letters.

The first movement "Hamburg, 1854" refers to one of classical music's great secret romances, that between Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann. The music itself relates to aspects of Brahms's own works: the unsettled, 32nd note oscillation in the opening bars, for example, comes from a moment in the slow movement of his Fourth Symphony - an orchestral texture that has always particularly intrigued me. This forms an undulating background upon which the violinist enters the scene as letter writing protagonist, spinning an impassioned and involved missive to an unrequited love. Part of Brahms' early "Variations on a Theme of Schumann" also weaves its way into the movement.

The second movement, "The Hague, 1882", is a broad, prayer-like slow movement, and takes its cue from a line from a letter of Vincent van Gogh, reflecting upon the eternal beauty of nature as being a constant in his otherwise troubled and notoriously unstable life.

The third movement, "Vienna, 1886", is a brief intermezzo, a fleshing out of a movement from my recent song cycle entitled Wolf-Lieder. It is a setting of an excerpt from one of Hugo Wolf's letters to a close personal friend, again a frank outpouring from a life of affliction.

The final movement finds its inspiration in the famous "Jerilderie Letter" of the Australian bushranger, Ned Kelly. Kelly wrote this letter in the small rural town of Jerilderie in 1879 as a public manifesto in order to articulate his pleas of innocence and desire for justice for both his family and other poor Irish settlers in the North-East of Victoria in the days of colonial Australia. Here the music takes on the character of a desperate `moto perpetuo', hurtling through passages of considerable virtuosity, but always reflecting the sense of impending catastrophe inherent in Kelly's famous document.
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