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Am Abend tönen dis herbstlichen Wälder (an anthology)
Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen and various soloists conducted by Sebastian Gottschick
(recorded 5 April & 22-24 October 1999 and 5 & 23 May 2000)
dacapo 8.224154 [51:16]

Andante. Konzertstuck fur Orgel. Sieben Lieder. Grodek. Veni creator spiritus. 4 Lieder fur Dulcinea. Capriccio.

My heart sank as I attempted to hack my way through the earnest, densely-argued introduction to this recording. A statement of the obvious - that composers no longer subscribe to a generally-agreed musical language but select from and/or add to a bewildering proliferation of styles - is couched in words of such pretentious obfuscation (vintage Pseuds' Corner stuff) that I dreaded to think what the music itself would be like.

We eventually come to the writer's central point - that Matthias Ronnefeld (1959-1986) ' . . . succeeded not only in finding a path, but also in developing his own clear voice in the labyrinthine soundscape.' Born into an Austrian musical family, Ronnefeld began composing at the age of six. As he grew up his musical thinking was most influenced by Berg and Schönberg, Zimmermann and Ligeti. His output was not large and consists almost entirely of miniatures for small forces, a representative sample of which fills this disc.

This is sparse, tough music (though not without some lyrical touches), but having attended many a Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival recital, I can't say I found it particularly distinctive. The three song cycles Grodek, Four Songs to Dulcinea and Seven Songs after the Song of Solomon - made the standard outrageous avant-garde demands on the vocal soloists (brilliantly and fearlessly met by Daniela Bechly (soprano) and Randi Stene (mezzo-soprano)). These wistful, sometimes explosive, but always enigmatic songs are remarkable perhaps for their terseness (some of less than a minute's duration). Except that its seven sections correspond to the seven verses of the hymn Veni, Creator Spiritus (for solo piano) I failed to see any connection between music and text.

In fact the programme-booklet, for all its length, has too little to say about the individual pieces. The Konzertstück for Organ, at over 12 minutes the longest work, is also perhaps the most accessible, particularly its rugged opening movement, though the monochrome registration of its static central section quickly palls.

The works for chamber ensemble - Capriccio and Andante for Viola and Five Instruments display assured handling of many of the tricks of the avant-garde trade.

It would be idle to pretend that I enjoyed this disc, but I am happy to report that it is splendidly performed and recorded.

Adrian Smith



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