It would be all too easy to jokingly refer to these discs as perhaps two
of the most obscure classical CDs available anywhere in the world. The booklets
make it clear that there are at least six volumes in this series and my initial
thought was 'can there really be enough contemporary music from that tiny
country Luxembourg to fill six CDs?'. And, as if to make life really difficult,
the producers did not feel it necessary to provide catalogue numbers.
But this is not April 1 - I listened to these fascinating discs over the
Christmas holidays and I write on New Year's Day. My time was well spent.
Marcel Wengler is clearly the force behind the recording and release of these
CDs. A pupil of Henze (composition) and Celibidache and Markevitch (conducting)
he was born in 1946 and currently divides his time between composing concert
and film music and guest conducting. On the evidence of these CDs he is a
fine conductor and a more than competent composer.
Of his three works spread over the two discs, the Second Symphony (1982)
is perhaps the most experimental and the least satisfactory. He states in
his notes 'Can anyone compose a symphony today without guilt at having misapplied
the word "symphony" to what is in effect only a larger work for orchestra?
This present work constitutes an attempt to answer this question in the
affirmative. My symphony
contains numerous elements and motifs alternately
working together and competing
. developing, destroying or just changing
each other.' For those who find the idea of 'music as random thought process'
an attractive proposition, this work will prove stimulating; but for the
rest of us the rapid changes of style and mood, all couched in a general
post modernist, semi-tonal framework, will be less entranced.
Matters improve greatly on Volume Five where Wengler's two pieces have real
qualities. Die weisse Wildnis for baritone and orchestra is well sung
by Louis Landuyt and, for once, the absence of a translation for the German
text is not the end of the world. The poet, Walter Buchebner, died tragically
young of cancer and his grief at the loss of opportunity and fulfilment is
well caught in Wengler's dark orchestration and acute use of orchestral timbres.
Konstellationen (Constellations) is a twenty two minute tone poem
which makes reference to actual astronomical constellations as well as
incorporating the metaphysical concept of individual elements within a whole.
Although this latter aspect is used by Wengler as an aid to creating this
composition, there is none of the arid intellectuality which marred the Symphony.
Indeed this is a fine, exciting and enjoyable piece of modern orchestral
writing which can be thoroughly appreciated without reference to the subject
It is Georges Lentz's own thirty seven minute astronomical work in seven
movements 'Caeli errant
.' 1, however, which proves to be the
real find here. The first of a series of pieces of this name which Lentz
(b. 1965) has regularly returned to since starting in 1989, it is based on
the composer's interest in astronomy as well as religious belief - although
not one particular theological system.
Lentz uses a myriad of styles from serial technique, through Tibetan Buddhist
traditions to near jazz and western post modernism. 'Caeli errant'
is a remarkable tour de force, taking the listener through the timelessness
of the universe (depicted using the arhythmical Tibetan tradition), incorporating
short periods of silence which, as the composer well describes it, 'colour
in the mind the sounds that have just preceded them'. There are also sequences
of rapid and exciting music which have an 'edge of the seat' impact.
'The Spiral Galaxy' is perhaps the best movement of the seven, describing
with an uncanny accuracy the circles and spirals which make up the huge edifice
of a galaxy. Using every technique at his disposal, Lentz's music takes the
listener on a fascinating musical journey. Flashes of Messiaen, Holst, even
Star Wars make brief but telling impacts, but the majority of the
material is Lentz's own, all underpinned by a solo cor anglais which acts
as the listener's constant guide and friend.
This is wonderful music and it would make a fine piece to partner Holst's
The Planets in a concert. Incidentally, Caeli errant
& 5 are available on the Australian label Tall Poppies, a CD which
I will certainly seek out.
Heinen's post-Bartokian Violin Concerto will appeal to lovers of fine 'pure
music' and Fritz's short movement for strings and percussion is entertaining
So, here are two CDs which should not be so obscure after all. They are well
recorded in both analogue and digital sound (1980 - 1994). In particular
it is well worth the effort to track down Volume 5 to experience yet another
unexpected masterpiece from the far from dying classical music business.
ISCM World Music
Days report: Interview with Wangler
Music Days 2000 Festival Report
Luxembourg Society for Contemporary Music