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Bernhard Lang I hate Mozart

Florian Boesch (baritone)
Dagmar Schellenberger (soprano)–
Andrea Lauren Brown
Salome Kammer (mezzo)
Mathias Zachariassen (tenor)
David Pittman-Jennings (baritone)
Rupert Bergheim (baritone)

Klangforum Wien/Vokalensemble NOVA/Johannes Kalitzke
Michael Sturminger (stage director)
Renate Martin and Andreas Donhauser (set design and costume)
Kurt Schony (lighting design)
Hamid Reza Tavakoli (video)

Theater an der Wien, Vienna
; recorded live November 2006

COL LEGNO WWE20277 [DVD 126:15 plus SACD 64:15 + 62:00]

Bernhard Lang's behind-the-scenes comic opera about staging The Magic Flute was a hit in the 2006 Viennese Mozart Year festivities. It is more original and durable than most of the ambitious Salzburg M22 productions of all the Mozart operas and is now available in a lavish presentation by col legno, packaged with two SACDs and a DVD filmed at live performances.

Sturminger’s libretto (he is also the stage director) is tailor-made to work with Lang's composing methods. Whilst German and English libretti are provided (though separated) in the 187 page booklet, it is best tackled on the DVD, which gives a fine feeling of the theatre experience and offers English subtitles for the multi-lingual proceedings.

The whole is a fragmented backstage history of a fraught production from auditions to performance, going into the protagonists' private lives, with the conductor (the marvellous Florian Boesch) caught between his fading diva wife and his current mistress, a young aspiring Pamina, Lang making the most of that conflict. I endorse MusicWeb's opinion that "Florian Boesch is immensely impressive as the attractive but narcissistic and self-obsessed conductor Adriano Morado, Dagmar Schellenberger is wonderfully bitchy as his wife, the diva Grace Moor, with Andrea Lauren Brown giving a strong performance as the young singer Simona".

Johannes Kalitzke guides the musical forces through a collage of different techniques which are tackled with aplomb and they all hit a topical nail on the head; many of us, too, became fed up with Mozart during that "special" year when we were subjected to overkill exposure to his music.

A characteristic method of Lang's style is to use repetition of phrases, which deliberately objectifies a few words with intentional banality. To put this opera into some sort of a listener's context, it should appeal to people who didn't reject out of hand Neuenfels' controversial Salzburg Fledermaus, and have been tempted to explore genuinely new music theatre, such as Furrer's Begehren (Desire) on the Orpheus legend (also with Vokalensemble NOVA, and are not averse to a musical score which is a collage of contemporary styles and methods, including electronic treatment of voices and instruments with synthesiser and two 'turntable soloists'...

Bernhard Lang (b. 1957) is certainly a composer to be reckoned with and rare chances to hear his music should not be missed; q.v. his DW12 "cellular automata" and Theatre of Repetitions, also conducted by Johannes Kalitzke, which are discussed and reviewed at http://www.musicalpointers.co.uk/articles/generaltopics/O'DonnellCologne.htm.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Bernhard Lang Theatre of Repetitions

Klangforum Wien/Johannes Kalitzke with the Ensemble les jeunes solistes

Kairos 0012532KAI [106 mins]

As a 'spin off' from Heather O'Donnell's Cologne broadcast, I have been pleased to receive from KAIROS a double-CD of Bernhard Lang's: Theatre of Repetitions, a tri-lingual music theatre piece after texts by Sade, Burroughs and extracts from the minutes of the Nuremberg trials, in content about ‘a possible history of atrocity’... (Our leading British cellist recently took part in a chamber music festival in Norway; he told Radio 3 listeners that he found himself at a disadvantage because everyone else there was trilingual.)

As a typical Englishman of a much earlier generation, I could get little from the French and German sections of Theatre of Repetitions; my multi-lingual Swiss wife, despite being intrigued by the music, was troubled to find a total disjunction between meaning and sound in the German and French sections, with consequent disinterest in the philosophical basis of the whole.

A few excerpts from the commentary: "For Bernhard Lang's compositional work since 1995, repetition can be the carrier of a highly complex internal differentiation within the object - - repetition in music can lead to self-forgetting, to states of trance. At the same time, it is precisely repetition that serves as our primary mnemonic tool. - - Subtly differentiated music demands an analytical consciousness, a constant intellectual detachment from the immediacy of primary sonic experience." [Wolfgang Reiter].

The important thing for me was to discover in Lang's music a new way to assemble motives in speech and instrumental discourse. I found it irresistibly compelling, and disturbing too - I have played the CDs twice. Lang averts incipient boredom (as can lead to Glass's mimimalism becoming tedious) by introducing change at just the right moment.

The performance by Klangforum Wien/Johannes Kalitzke with the Ensemble les jeunes solistes is impressive, and the musical treatment original - the sounds are to my ears (which others may think 'put on wrong' - Ives) beautiful and riveting .If there is no "word setting", that is so also for renaissance polyphony, and the seeming perversity of Lang's reminds me that in bygone decades of my youth the same was said of Stravinsky's treatment of his texts.

This is definitely a gifted composer worth trying to understand and to come to terms with his position, and I thank Heather O'Donnell and WDR 3 for pointing the way. I look forward to hearing more of Bernhard Lang's music, for which opportunities in England are rare.

Peter Grahame Woolf


Photo of Bernhard Lang: : Gerlinde Hipfl