Like Penderecki in "Threnody," Greenwood treats the string players as unique voices, sonic swarms of bees making clouds of sound. But he works differently. As a young Pole flexing his expressive muscle in 1960 during one of Poland's artist thaws, Penderecki smacked his listeners with fistfuls of grating dissonances. Greenwood replaces the grater with a blender. He works as a pop musician in a studio might, toying individually with tracks and finding the right complex mixtures of sonorities.
"Superhet" is most startling when it slips and slides, one swishing and swooping pitch after another. The clusters invite you in. The popcorn starts popping in a middle section, with smartly rhythmic pizzicato effects. There are a few artificially cloying measures, but what can be said about "Popcorn Superhet Receiver" is that its composer has an immediately recognizable voice. The performances are very different. Outwater's is far slower, more entrancing and mysterious. Mos' is dramatically gripping.
Greenwood's other work on the Nonesuch disc is "48 Responses to Polymorphia." It is actually nine responses to Penderecki's "Polymorphia," an aggressively clustery score with a gimmicky fat C-major chord at the end, as if to say this was all a bad dream. Greenwood plays with that chord in a variety of clever and graceful ways, stepping in a Bach bath at first and ticktocking his way out in the last response.
Then there is Greenwood the film composer. His score for the soundtrack to "There Will Be Blood"was Oscar material (it was disqualified for consideration on a technicality), and he is working on another Paul Thomas Anderson project, "The Master." Meanwhile, Nonesuch has released the soundtrack that Greenwood wrote to Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung's "Norwegian Wood," a Japanese film based on the novel by Haruki Murakami. The exquisite 2010 movie never got a proper theatrical release in the U.S. but it is out on DVD. Despite a touch of sentimentality, Greenwood's dreamy, haunting score has the brilliant ephemerality not heard on film since the great Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu died two decades ago.
In fact, just try to escape Greenwood's presence in classical music these days. Radiohead's song "Idioteque" uses a chord sequence from an obscure early computer music piece by Paul Lansky. Five years ago, Lansky returned the favor by making that sequence the key moment in his two-piano concerto titled "Shapeshifters." The Alabama Symphony played the concerto in Carnegie Hall last month and has recorded it on Bridge with conductor Justin Brown and the two-piano team known as Quattro Mani.
Arrangements of Radiohead songs pop up, so to speak, on two more new CDs: "Shuffle. Play. Listen." and "when words fade." The first features cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianistChristopher O'Riley, the second is by Anderson + Roe, another two-piano team. These are fine musicians, but they make Radiohead sound as comfortable as the old slippers favored by McCartney and crew. Maybe it's time for Greenwood to write some real music for them to play.