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Wolfgang RIHM

Klavierstuck Nos 7,5,4,2,1 [76 mins]

Bernhard Wambach

Kairos 0012372 KAI


Traum 1/9/92
Internet 1.1; Internet 1.5; Internet 1.9
Windows 1; Windows 2; Windows 3
Windows 4; Windows 5
Van Branntwein und Finsternissen
Hert auf hart.

Paulo Alvares - piano

METIER MSV CD92075 (a+b)

Kairos' fine CD of Wolfgang Rihm's Klavierstucke (1970-1980) was received for review in connection with the cycle's world first complete performance, given in London by Ian Pace with Mark Knoop. Bernhard Wambach's selection of five is presented in reverse chronological order; sensibly so because No 7 is one of the most direct for non-afficiandos of this composer, who is successful and famous in Germany but remains a somewhat marginal figure in UK. I was not convinced that playing all seven in a public concert had been wise, though Ian Pace believed it to be justified because of their 'sufficient degrees of coherence and diversity'.

No. 4, in a modified rondo form, is considered by Pace the most obviously accessible; he finds in it 'a pronounced Schumann-esque sense of the fantastical and macabre'. There are ghostly taps, martellato repetitions, wispy, ethereal secco writing, and a procession of increasingly slow, spaced chords, all enhanced by the clarity and presence of this recording.

Heard one or two at a sitting, there is much in these pieces to engage interest and commend, though no disguising that this is 'difficult' music for listeners and pianists. The young Wolfgang Rihm must have been a keyboard tiger; he writes about preparatory work for one of the Klavierstucke, living "in seclusion for four days, my dog my only companion - - improvising for hours on end", No 6 emerging as "a breathlessly exhausted gathering of forces".

No. 7 (1980) develops from two notes, the first strongly accented, the second soft - "its shadow". Rihm had discovered dynamic emphasis as an enormously compelling compositional parameter, as significant as timbre. These dynamic contrasts are the most immediately striking element of the set as a whole, and he links his sfz/pp predeliction to Beethoven's 'wild-gentle gestures'. The enormous dynamic range is accommodated easily in this recording. In these performances, timbre is explored through touch and voicing, and through the resonances under the piano's lid. They are effective in digital recording in a way that is elusive in live recital, with interference by heating and cooling systems and extraneous noise.* Another essential component is absolute silence, with pauses sometimes for as long as a whole minute. Did he envisage their being filled, as Cage's 4'33"? (Rihm's silences and Giacinto Scelsi's investigations of the sounds within a single note make these composers for the digital age.)

The sticking point for me (as in so much contemporary music) is the harmony, which is generally harsh and incomprehensible - and readers thus far will not be expecting any semblance of conventional melody. My greater partiality is for music whose composers can explain why that note is written there - often a forlorn hope.

Given all those characteristics, this recording gives every evidence of devoted preparation and an exquisite sensibility in pianistic translation of the composer's visions into sound. The booklet essay by Wolfgang Hofer, Keys touching upon Wolfgang Rihm's Klavierstucke, is oblique and elusive, as is so often Kairos's way. Ian Pace's notes may be found more helpful.

There are similarities and differences in the CDs of Gerhard Stäbler (two for the price of one) submitted for attention later the same week by the British company, Metier. Stäbler considers the piano an instrument for which there is still much to be said. His complete piano music runs to 85 mins, rather similar to the duration of Rihm's Klavierstucke complete. Both composers take a delight in extremes of dynamics, Stäbler's ppppp and fffff in juxtaposition also a reminder of Ustvolskaya's uncompromising way. He likes building clusters, but also allows you to savour long decays and silences, which are excellently recorded, as is Rihm by Kairos. Stabler also explores a wider range of timbres and special effects, and his combinations of keyboard with other sound sources demands virtuosic responses.

But Stäbler is, to my ears, a less tough proposition than Rihm for the ordinary listener. His textures are not so dense, even if the compositional processes remain private to him; in Dali he puts Schubert's sonatas through 'a magical number square' - - . His pieces are very different one from another, their durations too ranging from from 70 secs (Ballad for Times of Raw Forces) to 33 mins (Dali), which makes for a varied programme. Red on Black is graphic and aleatoric, 'improvisatory and calculative'.

There are many cross links, and British connections; Internet 1.1 was written for Ian Pace. In it Paul Alvarez, who speaks inscrutable texts by Walter Benjamin in Stäbler's Dali, plays percussion too and speaks garbled syllables - 'the surrealism of Dali lingers on'. For Internet 1.5 he weaves in peripheral taped sounds and radios. And Internet 1.9 has bizarre vocalisations and Metier's commentator, Dan Albertson, recommends hearing it against 'outside noise or distant conversation' - there's one for the Great Hall of King's College!

Stäbler's little Windows (1983) have passages of 'charm and delicacy', with references to Eisler and Albanian folk music. His Total, inspired by the mid-'80s Miners' Strike in UK, is 'nearly impossible to play' in the 'furious tempo' prescribed, but the Brazilian pianist Paulo Alvarez seems to cope.

I did play the Stäbler CDs straight through and enjoyed doing so. Metier must be congratulated on their plans to continue to profile German contemporary composers, and I can recommend this one to open minded musical explorers.

* see also Murail

© Peter Grahame Woolf