Mia Brentano – Hidden Sea
In den USA auf der Jahresbestenliste des Klassikmagazins „Fanfare“
„Perhaps the most titillating CD I’ve come across in a long time… Music of wondrous clarity and melodiousness“
Dave Saemann, Fanfare Magazine
„A new form of music. That sounds improvised but is, in fact, completely scored.“
Jacqueline Kharouf, Fanfare Magazine
BRENTANO Hidden Sea. Worldless Alone. Intermezzo. Wordless Together I. Worldless Together II • Benyamin Nuss, Max Nyberg (pn); Asja Valcic (vc) • MONS 874610 (77:00)
With combined elements of jazz, classical, and Minimalist compositional styles, the music of Mia Brentano’s Hidden Sea defies the conventions of categorized, genre-specific music. This is music written to a mood, rather than mood-inspiring music. And the com- poser—whoever he or she truly is—hopes to free the listener from the need to know genre or context. In place of historical context, as Klaus Martin Kopitz explains in the album notes, there is instead emotional context, references to places both real and imagined, peo- ple (real and imaginary), and other influences such as jazz standards, paintings, and com- posers like George Gershwin, André Previn, Claus Ogerman, and Felix Mendelssohn.
Kopitz, who does not claim to be the composer of these pieces but does claim to be Mia Brentano’s friend, is a German composer and musicologist. He earned his degree from the University of Music Hanns Eisler in Berlin and focused his doctoral research on Viennese Classicism and Romanticism. He has written about the German composers Norbert Burg- müller (1810–1836) and Justus Hermann Wetzel (1879–1973) and is currently working on the publication of Robert and Clara Schumann’s whole correspondence with friends and colleagues. As Mia’s friend, Kopitz acts as a kind of conduit on her behalf, both by sharing Mia’s “miniatures” with the world and offering a glimpse at the artist’s hopes and inten- tions.
One of these intentions is the development of a new form of music which Mia has la- beled “Advanced Classic.” Loosely, this is music that 1) sounds improvised but is, in fact, completely scored, and 2) is interpreted by two classically trained pianists who also have an understanding and passion for jazz performance. To that latter requirement, Mia’s music, plus four improvised bonus tracks, are performed by two up-and-coming pianists: Ben- yamin Nuss and Max Nyberg. Both are not only classically trained, but also have back- grounds and close family members in jazz. Nuss is a German pianist and composer who has released several recordings, including two CDs from Deutsche Grammophon: Benyamin Nuss Plays Uematsu (2010) and Exotica (2012). He also performs with his father, interna- tionally renowned trombonist Ludwig Nuss. Nyberg is a Swedish pianist and composer who won a special award in 2016 at the Ninth International Piano Competition J.S. Bach held in Würzburg, Germany. His brother Karl Nyberg plays saxophone and clarinet and they also collaborate, although this album is his first recording. With their combined knowledge and musical sensibilities, Nuss and Nyberg sculpt the mood and tone of Mia’s music—bright, complex, and self-reflecting. Asja Valcic adds additional cello accompani- ment on only four tracks, but the effect is a bit like a voice murmuring in another room, a reminder perhaps of the composer herself.
As a listener, I like that the true identity of the composer of these pieces is obscured. That deliberate obfuscation is a reference to the dual nature of the pieces in that they sound improvised, but are, in fact, formally composed. It is also a reference perhaps to the two pianos as mirrored instruments (or, a reference to Mia and Klaus as separate and opposite identities of the same composer). This idea of doubling—the artist and his/her doppelgäng- er—is an inherent part of being an artist, composer, musician, writer, etc. There exists the relationship between the artist and his creation, the self and what he has left behind as an expression of that self. Jacqueline Kharouf
„Definitely something new, and definitely something worth experiencing“
Colin Clarke, Fanfare Magazine
Hidden Sea is something of an anomaly, for this writer at least. Music that owns so many facets, from jazz to easy-listening to (occasionally) contemporary, is so often facile. Yet here, Brentano has succeeded in walking the tightrope of musical plurality, and the
concept is beautifully realized both by pianists Benyamin Nuss and Max Nyberg and by the superb recording, present yet not too far forward and with superb detail throughout both pitch and dynamic ranges.
The piece is subtitled “20 songs for two pianos,” a nod perhaps to Mendelssohn’s Lie- der ohne Worte. The music is fully notated and Brentano herself (apparently a most reclu- sive composer) calls the mode “advanced classical” as it is completely notated, despite the distinct jazz edge. The performances are remarkable: the knife-edge sense of ensemble to “Early Birds,” the third movement (song), speaks of the technical excellence on display here while its complement, the fourth piece “Miss Ada,” finds that soft, laid-back spot so beloved of late-night jazz radio programs. While not overtly Minimalist, the harmonic world of “Along the River” seems to reference Glass before moving into a more interior, expressive landscape. A sort of adult music-box, “Along the River” demonstrates again that ability to sit on the edge between two vocabularies that makes this writing so impressive.
A post-Joplin slant to “Slapstick,” with its stride bass, speaks of extroversion, while “A Silent Place” has a sort of Schumannesque interior mode, as if embarking on a contempo- rary Kinderszenen; it comes as no surprise that the very next movement is, indeed, called “Children” (think late-night jazz music-boxes). The sheer virtuosity of “On the Train to Maine” is remarkable, not in terms of notes in a short segment of time but in the control of those notes from the present performers. Textures are expertly layered between the two pianos, while the desperately expressive “Footprints” takes the fragility of Debussy’s “Des pas sur la niège,” transplanting into Brentano’s individual vocabulary. Five movements have the subtitle “Étude,” and there is no missing that aspect to “Wake Up” with its rapid repeated chords, in the penultimate movement. It is left to the soft side of Brentano, the cushion of sound that is “4 o’clock a.m.” to close the cycle.
The four pieces offered in the manner of encores (actually captured improvisations by Nuss and Nyberg) are identifiably from a different palette. The first piece, Wordless Alone, couples a Schoenbergian approach to voice-leading with deliberately ambiguous harmonic structures. The more Webernesque closing section, morphing quickly and easily into jazz gesture, is an imaginative touch. The brief Intermezzo is a study in rolled chords (with su- perb touch at considerable speed from both pianists) before the more extended Wordless Together I and II. The prepared piano of Cage is heard here, but in a very different context, almost primal in its effect. This is a very different soundscape to Brentano’s, even if Word- less Together II in particular does occasionally reference a more cushioned harmonic vo- cabulary. The pianists exude confidence in their delivery.
For once, the hype on the web that accompanies the release has a measure of veracity: “Hidden Sea …
that`s two pianos standing on the shore of a hidden sea, inviting you to take a musical journey where new and undiscovered regions and landscapes meet. It’s not the rebirth of ‘Third Stream,’ but rather ‘Easy Listening’ for advanced students.” Definitely something new, and definitely something worth experiencing. Colin Clarke
„Perhaps the most titillating CD I’ve come across in a long time. Music of wondrous clarity and melodiousness.“ Dave Saemann, Fanfare Magazine
Want List for Dave Saemann 
For this reviewer, the past year has been notable for a number of world premiere record- ings. […]
Perhaps the most titillating CD I’ve come across in a long time is Mia Brentano’s Hid- den Sea, 20 songs for two pianos. This is music of wondrous clarity and melodiousness, a classical take on the singer-songwriters of the 1970s. The composer’s name actually is a pseudonym for a German musicologist, who has invented a whole world for his creation Mia. The entire enterprise smacks of the ethos of German literature of the early Romantic period, a Caspar David Friedrich world of delicate and intricate consciousness. All that being said, Hidden Sea is music of wit and great fun. […]
Mia Brentano’s Hidden Sea is a beautiful collection of 20 songs scored for two pianos and the occasional unobtrusive addition of a cello. The songs breathe the air of the 1970s singer-songwriters, the world of Carole King and James Taylor. The songs are lovingly set forth and gorgeously atmospheric. The program notes cite the influence of Gershwin, An- dré Previn, and Claus Ogermann, each of whom interestingly has one foot in the classical world and the other in popular genres. These songs are classical in the specific sense that they are fully written out and require the interpretive skills of classically trained pianists. Who is Mia Brentano? Well, we really are not supposed to know, as the composer wishes to have her music judged purely on its merits and not by the reputation of its creator. But in fact, the composer of Hidden Sea seems to be Klaus Martin Kopitz, a distinguished German musicologist and Beethoven expert in his 60s who, among other things, came up with the most likely identification of the dedicatee of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise.”
I’m sure there is a certain pleasure for Kopitz in establishing an alternate, female per- sonality behind these compositions, one that has a gentle and luminous creative existence. Kopitz even has taken the liberty of writing the CD’s program notes, inventing a whole world for Mia, including friends, loss, and travels. He also intersects with Mia’s life story, seeing a child in Mia’s garden and imagining Mia chatting to a waitress in a café he and Mia both visited on separate occasions. Why the name “Mia Brentano?” Clemens Brentano was a German Romantic poet whose works were set by Richard Strauss. Clemens also was one of the editors of Des Knaben Wunderhorn, songs from which were set by Gustav Mah- ler. Clemens’s nephew Franz Brentano was a philosopher, psychologist, and priest whose students included Sigmund Freud. It’s not too farfetched to suggest that “Mia Brentano” is an echo of this pedigree, a literary and musical creation, by Kopitz, whose genetic imprint is revealed in her searching and delicious music. Whatever the truth of the matter, Hidden Sea is a stunningly lyrical collection that we are implored to savor as music, pure and sim- ple.
The first song, “When it Rained,” has a rhythmic pattern reminiscent of Stevie Wonder. The next song is “Christina’s World,” the title taken from Andrew Wyeth’s famous paint- ing. It evokes the wistful solitude of the Wyeth. “Along the River” hearkens back to Men- delssohn’s Songs Without Words, the genre to which Hidden Sea belongs. “Slapstick” is a wonderful étude with a ragtime, vaudeville feeling. “Children” is a gentle, rambling piece, playing with an evocation of innocence. The Johnny Mercer lyric to Henry Mancini’s song Moon River provides the title to “My Huckleberry Friend.” It has all the freshness and romance of the film that song is from, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. “Canajoharie” is a beautiful idyll. A kind of jazz meditation is embodied in “Footprints.” “Mama Mia’s Moonshine Bar” offers a tip of the hat in its title to the song and musical by ABBA. It’s a gently rock- ing number, with plenty of spirit. “Remembering Stella” is a kind of bluesy nocturne. In “Summernight Tales,” there is a narrative feeling that reminds me of Hugo Alfvén’s First Swedish Rhapsody. The final song, “4 o’clock a. m.,” has a mood reminiscent of Erik Satie.
Pianists Benyamin Nuss and Max Nyberg do a stellar job interpreting Hidden Sea. They also contribute four interesting improvisations of their own. The sound engineering is ex- cellent. Kudos to Mia Brentano! Long may she grace our world with music. Hidden Sea is a moving and enchanting delight. Highly recommended. Dave Saemann