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Klaus HUBER (b. 1924)
Tenebrae (1966/7)
Kammerkonzert Intarsi (1994)a
Protuberanzen (1985/6)
James Joyce Chamber Music (1966/7)b
Michael Wendeberg (piano)a; Giovanna Reitano (harp)b; Miklós Nagy (horn)b;
Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg/Arturo Tamayo
Recorded: Conservatoire, Luxembourg, January and July 2003
TIMPANI 1C1075 [61:45]


Eighty this year, Klaus Huber is one of the foremost composers of his generation with a substantial output to his credit (see his website ). He is also a renowned pedagogue (he was the teacher of Brian Ferneyhough who became his assistant in Freiburg and of many important younger composers). The works recorded here span nearly three decades of his busy composing career, since Tenebrae and James Joyce Chamber Music were completed in 1967 whereas Intarsi dates from 1994.

The composer describes Tenebrae as "passion music without words" and as "a resolutely profane interpretation of the Cross"; but the piece – as a whole – may also be experienced as a symphony in four movements played without a break. The work, however, also carries a deeply human message about loss, solitude, betrayal, death and possible healing; although it also reflects on the "aesthetic of suffering", to quote the title of Max Nyffeler’s insert notes. The title of the piece, of course, refers to Good Friday (the slow ‘movement’ is actually subtitled Golgotha); but there is much more about the music than this. The opening section is about solitude of the individual in confrontation to the brutal world around him. The emotional content of Golgotha is clear enough : this is a sorrowful elegy of great expressive strength. This is followed by a short ghostly Scherzo leading into the final section that ends with the ghost of a hymn imbedded in eerie harmonies rotating aimlessly before a last violent outburst that seems to lead to an assertive close. This, however, does not bring any cathartic consolation, and the final, subdued coda dies away with softly tolling bells.

The Chamber Concerto Intarsi for piano and chamber orchestra uses some fragments from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.27 KV595 that briefly surface here and there as inlays ("intarsi") into Huber’s own personal sound world. The second movement Pianto – Specchio di memorie ("Lament – Mirror of memories") functions a slow movement, a spectral Nocturne of some sort. The flow of the music is constantly interrupted by short cadenzas. The third movement Unità is a short, somewhat ramshackle Scherzo in which the tune from Mozart’s rondo Komm lieber Mai rubs shoulders with the Chilean revolutionary song El pueblo unido jamás será vencido. One briefly thinks of Ives or Carter here. The final movement Giardino arabo ("Arabian garden") carries the music in an unexpected, new direction for which the composer provides no clue. Intarsi is on the whole a rather enigmatic piece, rather understated, and thus in total contrast to the almost graphic description of human sorrow and suffering found in Tenebrae.

Written at the request of Hans Zender who wanted a very short piece for large orchestra, Protuberanzen (subtitled Three Short Pieces for Orchestra) actually exists in two versions, i.e. a ‘successive’ version in which the three movements are played in succession, and a ‘simultaneous’ version (heard here) in which the first two pieces are played simultaneously with the third one creeping in almost unnoticed and, when left alone on its own, providing for the work’s coda. The whole piece, a real tour de force in its own right, works remarkably well; and one is again reminded of Ives and Carter.

Huber considers James Joyce Chamber Music as one of his most highly introverted, individual works while being very reluctant to provide any clues for such a statement. The piece, which might be regarded as a musical meditation on Joyce’s cycle, is cast as a double concerto for harp, horn and chamber orchestra. It was written at about the same time as Tenebrae, but is – inevitably, I should say – a completely different piece of music. I suppose that one’s appreciation of the piece might be enhanced by a thorough knowledge of Joyce’s cycle; but the sheer musical invention, the instrumental playfulness, the comparatively light touch, the energy and the imagination of the music have a direct appeal that I find hard to resist.

Huber’s utterly serious music is in no way easy; but it displays a formidable expressive strength that holds you by the scruff of the neck and does not let you go all too easily. In this respect, these orchestral pieces could be compared with those by Varèse, Xenakis or Guerrero, that at a first hearing might seem rather intractable but that – willy-nilly - drag you along by their sheer power and energy. Hard stuff, no doubt, that needs (and repays) repeated hearings, but that is ultimately immensely rewarding.

Arturo Tamayo conducts vital readings of these often impressive scores out of which Tenebrae and James Joyce Chamber Music are undoubted masterpieces. Superb recorded sound, and another splendid release from Timpani. Recommended. My recording of the month.

Hubert Culot

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