> Paul-Heinz DITTRICH - Engfuhrung [HC]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Paul-Heinz DITTRICH (born 1930)
Engführung (1980)
Sigune von Osten (soprano); vocal ensemble; instrumental ensemble; Dresdner Philharmonie; Herbert Kegel
Recorded: Lukaskirche, Dresden, May 1988
BERLIN CLASSICS 0013052BC [58:36]


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Celanís parents, German Jews from Bukovina, died in concentration camps. Celan was forced to live in exile, first in a labour camp from which he escaped before finally ending up in Paris where he took his own life in 1970. His often inaccessible poems were inevitably influenced by his own experience during the Nazi era in Germany. As Frank Schneider remarks in his excellent notes, poems such as Todesfuge of 1945 and its companion Engführung of 1958 reflect the atrocities suffered by the Jews in the hells of Nazi concentration camps. Much the same could be said of most of Celanís verse that has attracted much attention from several present-day composers. Wolfgang Rihm, Aribert Reimann, Paul-Heinz Dittrich and Harrison Birtwistle, to name but a few that come to mind, have set some of Celanís poems. Birtwistleís Pulse Shadows and Dittrichís Engführung are likely to be among the most substantial works inspired by Celanís words.

Dittrich set parts of Engführung in his Kammermusik IV (1977). This setting prompted him to consider another setting, but the sheer size of the poem soon made it evident that this would be on a large scale. A commission from the Südwestfunk Orchestra gave him the opportunity to realise his project. Engführung was composed in 1980 and first performed during the Donaueschingen Music Days Festival in October 1981. Sigun von Osten was the soloist and the performance was conducted by Matthias Bamert.

The work is scored for soprano, vocal ensemble (2 sopranos, 1 alto, 1 tenor and 2 basses), instrumental ensemble (violin, cello, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, guitar and piano), orchestra, tape and live-electronics. This is undoubtedly an ambitious and substantial work of some considerable complexity; and it would be idle on my part to go into any details about it structure. Suffice it to say that Celanís poem has some musical structure of its own (engführung means stretto) with refrains and verbal variations that greatly help maintaining some formal coherence to the whole. The work opens with a prologue sung by the vocal ensemble on words restated later, either literally or in variants, and concluding the poem, though not the work as will be seen later. The various stanzas follow, interspersed with orchestral interludes, most of which are quite short, though the third interlude, occurring halfway in the work and signalling its climax, is a rather weighty orchestral section. The whole setting alternates according to the words and is set to full orchestral accompaniment or to chamber-like ensembles. The vocal parts, generally set in a strongly expressionistic manner, sometimes relies on speech and on pre-recorded material. For the coda to the epilogue, Dittrich chose a late poem written in 1967 commemorating the pre-Fascist murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht heard mostly on tape and progressively silencing the singers and the orchestra. As Schneider again aptly remarks, "what finally comes into the picture is the continuity of active resistance against any form of barbarism, not least against its least conspicuous but most dangerous variant : indifference". Indeed, for all its complexity, Dittrichís Engführung is a powerfully gripping work of protest. No light stuff, though, but well worth the effort.

The present reading is quite simply marvellous. All concerned obviously put all their heart in a work that clearly means much to them, as it should to us. The 1988 recording still wears well. Definitely, a major work of our time that is not likely to be heard in concert very often, which makes this re-issue most welcome; and those who have been similarly impressed by Birtwistleís Pulse Shadows will certainly want to experience a totally different approach of Celanís verse.

Hubert Culot

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