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Ulrich LEYENDECKER (b. 1946)
Symphony No 3 (1990-1991) [29.24]
Violin Concerto (1995) [28.19]
North German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Johannes Kalitzke, conductor
rec. Symphony, 4 November 1994, NDR Studios Hamburg; Concerto, live, NDR Studio 10 Hamburg, 2 February 1996. DDD
NAXOS 8.557427 [57.43]

When a new CD plops onto the doormat and I discover it to be of music by a composer completely new to me all I can hope for initially is that the music will make some sense and that I might like what I hear. Only occasionally am I completely bowled over from bar one. But with Ulrich Leyendecker that is exactly what has happened. Immediately the 3rd Symphony began I felt an affinity with the sheer sound the composer conjured from the orchestra and as I learned more I also felt an affinity with the form, structure and aims. Unusual and rather special. Let me share it further.

This Symphony, recorded the day after its first performance, opens with a widely spaced chord especially in the strings. This sets up one particular texture that conveys a great sense of open spaces and a huge natural landscape. The violin glissandi using quarter-tones almost transport you into outer space, anyway you are certainly not earthbound. The opening Largo continues to be literally ‘out of this world’ and is mostly atonal but approachable. The CD insert claims that the composer is interested in ‘sonic architecture’ yet ‘manages to communicate directly with its audience’. I would take issue with one aspect of Cris Posslac’s otherwise excellent and detailed booklet notes. They tell us that Leyendecker has rejected the avant-garde in favor of "finding a new certainty from the spirit perceived in past traditions". Quite right too BUT we must not deny that this music, especially the concerto, is not easy listening. This music is large-scale, atonal and demanding in its need for the listener to follow the argument. It is also colourful and, especially important, its form and sense of direction of the music are clear. This is where the composer’s excellent programme notes which are quoted in the booklet are very handy. Anyone can understand what his aims are and how he has set about putting the works together. Just a sentence like "The second movement (of the 3rd Symphony) has quickly scurrying figures from the various levels of sound. To these are added rhythmically and especially sharply-pointed shapes that displace the arrangement of notes from the start in a constant dynamic movement," is helpful. When you hear the music it all fits into place.

Of the Concerto the composer tells us "Constant changes in the relationship between solo and orchestra and increasingly disparate instrumentation determine still more strongly the working out in the middle section of the first movement". We should not deny that this work is powerful and gripping. It demands your attention and will occasionally bowl you over. You embark on a varied and exciting musical journey once it starts. First there is a scurrying idea which made me immediately think of a Hardanger fiddler. Added to it are tiny points of colour which increase until suddenly at 1’22" the pulse slackens to expose a fragile but still pointillist world. This also grows in intensity, meanwhile the violinist’s virtuosity increases. After a further minute even this idea is halted as the soloist weaves a melancholy line over curious forest noises. And so it goes on fascinating the ear, new tempi, new textures, but all related. This section too builds to a frantic and totally dissonant climax.

And incidentally, just to surprise you, the third movement is a set of nine variations on a song which the composer had written a few years ago as part of his ‘Hebrew Ballads’.

Sometimes these pieces reminded me of James Dillon; sometimes of Hans Werner Henze. But these analogies are stupid because frankly this music is pan-European and yet totally individual.

I find it curious that Naxos have taken such a long time to issue this disc, and as it lasts for less than an hour I wondered if the intention was to put another work onto it. As this hasn’t come to fruition perhaps they can be persuaded to allow us to hear more of Leyendecker’s work in the future.

The CD has excellent notes on the music, the performers and on the composer. Although I have not dwelt on his biography I hope dear reader that you will not mind. I feel that first one should take in the music and then discover that he was a pupil of Inigo Schmitt from 1962-5 (who he? I hear you say). Later in the 1970s he studied with Rudlof Petzold - any the wiser? Probably not. Well, look him up on the internet ... there is a good website. More importantly listen to this disc. I hope that it fascinates you as much as it has me.

Gary Higginson

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