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10Walter Zimmermann Beginner's Mind (complete piano works 1975-1998)
Ian Pace (piano, harpsichord & voice)

Metier MSV CD92057(a+b) [65:30 + 68:41]

Ian Pace has been exploring Text Music in recent concerts, and this recording pursues that interest. I have reminded myself that in my younger days concert manners precluded spoken words from the platform by instrumentalists and singers. (I was last week prompted by SOIRÉE, a new dance work, to ponder why ballet and dance in the past has likewise eschewed vocalisation.)

Walter Zimmermann (b 1949) is claimed to be a key figure in German new music, but is scarcely known to the record buying public in UK, and his surname only brings up Lortzing & Bernd Alois even on German Amazon! This is a weird pair of CDs, with elaborate yet obscure accompanying essays, less helpful as listener guides than might be. Some of the texts are exhortations from Zen Buddhism, Meister Eckhart, Plato etc, and Pace declaims Beginner's Mind Song by S Suzuki. Sections are titled Leave the Old; Clean the Mind; After the Consciousness; Prepare the New. It all ends with When I'm 84, to which Ian Pace counts off the years, coached in Japanese by the eminent contemporary violinist Mieko Kanno.

There are 45 tracks on the first CD, played continuously, and 11 on the second, but two of those are further subdivided to accommodate 16 tiny chaconnes. The music begins with apparent simplicity and is easy to follow superficially, if not to understand. The composer's thought (and that of his commentators) is far from so, and whilst much of the music sounds within amateur capability, a modicum of pianistic virtuosity is required from time to time. One substantial section is about Wanda Landowska's lost instruments, hence the involvement of harpsichord. Portions of the printed texts are spoken. The speech levels as recorded are low, but I have to assume this is intentional, as the composer was present at the sessions. There is also a theatrical component of physical gestures written into the score; the composer exonerated Ian Pace from doing those in the studio - perhaps one day for DVD??

I have listened (and half-listened) to it repeatedly (on hi-fi, in the car - and on my computer whilst thinking and typing this) and tedium has given way to a strange fascination - I can only advise trying to sample it before purchase. Whether Walter Zimmermann's music is, finally, simplistic or profound I do not feel qualified yet to advise.


© Peter Grahame Woolf