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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Josef Matthias HAUER (1883-1959)
Fifteen Zwölftonspiele.

Ensemble Avantgarde
Recorded in Leipzig on November 29th-December 1st, 2000. [DDD]
DABRINGHAUS UND GRIMM - SZENE MDG613 1060-2 [49.23]


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Less than fifty minutes on a disc may seem short measure, but when the time is stuffed full of little discoveries, as this disc is, the rewards are long lasting indeed. The name of Hauer is more often found in text books than in concert hall programmes, and if this disc is anything to go by this neglect is hopelessly unfounded. His discography is woefully small. Some piano pieces are played by Herbert Henck on Wergo WER6609-2, some are played by Elizabeth Klein on ClassicO CLASSCD176 and (amazingly) there is a complete performance of his opera Salammbo on Orfeo (a live account from 1983 conducted by Lothar Zagrosek on Orfeo C493981A).

Perhaps it is unfortunate that Hauer is best known for his dispute with Schoenberg as to who had the idea of the twelve-tone system. He was a curious man who in his time even formed the model for the Magister Ludi in Hermann Hesse’s Glass Bead Game (incidentally, a truly inspirational book: if you have not read it, I suggest you do). From 1939, all of Hauer’s works were called Zwölftonspiele but not numbered so they appear as only, for example, Zwölftonspiel for piano (New Year 1947), or Zwölftonspiel for flute and harpsichord (August 31st, 1948). This is hardly ideal (apparently there are literally thousands of them), but there remains as yet no catalogue of his works. Although the majority are for piano, piano duet or harpsichord, other instruments and combinations appear and it is with one of these combinations that the MDG disc begins - for ‘home’ orchestra: Zwölftonspiel for violin, cello, accordion and piano four hands (October 1957). It is true to say that this is curiously and deliberately inexpressive music (Hauer’s own instructions for performance are an unhelpful, ‘not too fast, not too slow, not too loud, not too soft; well-tempered, well-intoned’).

Right. No problem, then.

Well, actually, there is, for there is no performance tradition for the Ensemble Avantgarde to call on, and the booklet notes tell of much discussion/argument in rehearsal as to how to actually present these pieces. What’s more, they all apparently follow the same model: a twelve note row is stated and then set out in four parts, undergoing contrapuntal exploration (although this appears not to happen in all of the pieces on the disc: Zwölftonspiel for violin and piano) has the piano in distinctly accompanimental mode against the more obviously solo violin). The fact is that the uniformity of title belies the variety contained therein, both within and between pieces. What is for sure, though, is that the juxtaposition of ‘play‘ and twelve-note manipulation, which may at first appear anachronistic, actually provides incredibly fertile ground for the seeds of Hauer’s imagination.

The first track, the above-mentioned Zwölftonspiel for home orchestra for home orchestra: violin, cello, accordion and piano four hands (October 1957) presents a bizarre sound, instantly Viennese (although the Vienna of the turn of the century Second Viennese School). Some pieces come across as disembodied fragments: Zwölftonspiel for violin and harpsichord (August 26th, 1948) is just 58 seconds, for example, and the Zwölftonspiel for solo clarinet (1947), base on a twelve-tone row by Ernst Hartmann, is 1‘05 of Matthias Kreher’s superb clarinet playing. The variety of Hauer’s musical language, even within the 50 minutes of this disc, is breath-taking and ranges from the pleasant (Zwölftonspiel for flute and harpsichord) to the almost Impressionistically-lush-threatening-pre-Glassian-minimalism-at-any-moment Zwölftonspiel for string quartet (January 1957), to the capricious XXII. Zwölftonspiel for piano (1946), to the serious-yet-delicate Zwölftonspiel for piano (New Year 1947) ... the list just goes on ...

Performances are uniformly excellent. Pianist Steffen Schleiermacher is superb (try any of his John Cage discs on the same label if you need further proof, or his piano recital of Darmstadt music on MDG613 1004-2: see my review). He also provides the indispensable booklet notes. Embedded within the member list of the Ensemble Avantgarde is the Leipzig String Quartet, which has distinguished itself elsewhere in Dabringhaus und Grimm’s extensive catalogue.

I am confident this disc will not only retain its fascination for a long time to come, but that it will encourage me to explore what little the catalogue has to offer of this remarkable figure. It would be a heart-warming thought indeed if, in these cash-strapped times for the recording industry, enlightened companies the like of Dabringhaus und Grimm could continue where this disc left off and provide more Hauer discs. They would, indeed, be most welcome.

 

Colin Clarke


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