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Schubert Dialog
Jörg WIDMANN (b. 1973) Lied für Orchester (2003) [29:41]
Wolfgang RIHM (b. 1952) Erscheinung (1978) [16:53]
Bruno MANTOVANI (b. 1974) Mit Ausdruck (2003) [14:59]
Dieter SCHNEBEL (b. 1930) Schubert-Phantasie (1978, revised 1989) [15:46]
Peter Selwyn (piano) (Rihm)
Alain Billard (bass clarinet) (Mantovani)
Bamberg Symphony/Jonathan Nott
rec. Sinfonie an der Regnitz, Joseph-Keilberth-Saal, Bamberg, 11-12 Dec 2003 (Widmann); 28 May 2004 (Rihm); 16-17 Dec 2003 (Mantovani); 11-14 Oct 2002 (Schnebel). DDD
TUDOR 7132 [77:47]
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This recording is a by-product of Nott and the Bamberg Symphony’s project of presenting concerts of Schubert symphonies coupled with contemporary orchestral works in some manner inspired by Schubert. The Schubert symphonies were issued separately (Tudor 7141-3 review), as was a companion disc, "Schubert Epilog", of works by Berio, Henze, Reimann, Schwertsik, and Zender (Tudor 7131). I will discuss the present disc as a stand-alone issue.

The notes claim that, "originally Widmann wanted the entire orchestra to intone ‘a sort of eternal melody’ of great intensity". Without reference to Schubert Widmann would "not have risked such radical singing". What I hear in this work is not Schubert, but the late romanticism of Bruckner, Wagner and early Schoenberg. There is a hunting horn theme that sounds almost lifted from Siegfried, and a general yearning expansiveness of brass and string writing evocative of Tristan and Isolde. Yet other aspects, including a sharp glass-edge sound to the strings, remind one that Widmann is a grandchild of the Second Viennese School, particularly of the Berg camp. If you are a fan of any of the composers I have used as comparisons, then you will like this work as much as I do.

Rihm’s Erscheinung (appearance or apparition), begins with single notes or chords sounded in intervening silence by the piano. A couple of minutes of this leads into largely monophonic writing for an ensemble of nine string players. This thirteen minutes of string music tells a musical story comparatively lacking in the feel of "randomness" compared to Rihm’s other work. We experience a journey that begins with foreboding, turns brighter with feelings of curiosity and discovery, goes through a period of frenzied energy, concluding with a sense of arrival. This is the most accessible of the composer’s works I have encountered. It would serve as a great introduction to his idiom, even if his own over-inflated comments regarding his intentions ("It is chamber music — and yet not orchestral music — and yet not ... Both a swollen chamber ensemble and a shrunken orchestra") are best taken lightly.

If one imagines Boulez with passion and a danceable, early-Stravinskian sense of rhythm, one gets a sense of Bruno Mantovani (not to be confused with the ‘easy listening’ Mantovani) in Mit Ausdruck (with expression). It is a work for bass clarinet and orchestra. The Boulez connection is not coincidental, as Mantovani studied at IRCAM. What may be more of a mystery is that he is very far from having succumbed to intellectualized abstraction. The sound of the bass clarinet provides a mellow, tuneful alternative to the often pungent and strident tone of its higher-pitched sibling. Mit Ausdruck might well be described as a Rite of Spring in the form of a dialog between the bass clarinet on the one hand, and the orchestra and a very active percussion section on the other. The bass clarinetist, Alain Billard, is the work’s dedicatee.

It is with Schnebel’s Schubert-Phantasie that we hear the first instantly recognizable extract from Schubert, which is the opening from the D 894 piano sonata. The work consists of this theme struggling against being pulled into a diffuse, often turbulent, undercurrent of sound. Though there is an intended logic here, it sounds to some degree like a compositional brainstorming session. It is, to my mind, the least musically coherent of the works here, and thus least likely to hold up to repeated listening, even if it has the most prominent "hook".

Nott, the Bamberg Symphony, and the soloists perform with commitment and familiarity. The recording is by turns analytical and powerful as needed.

Despite the programmatic theme of "Schubert Dialog", clear references or evocations of the Romantic composer are rare in all but Schnebel’s work. However, the Schubertian muse seems to have led these thorny European modernists to be uncharacteristically communicative and accessible. If you think you might be interested in exploring this genre, I would recommend this disc to your attention.

Brian Burtt



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