> BAER The Sunpainter's Delight [HC][GH]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Walter BAER (born 1928)
The Sunpainter's Delight
Passagen I (1996)
Passagen II (1997)
Passagen III (1998)
Erscheinungen (2000)
Sequenzen für Klavier (1968)
Zwei Klavierstücke (1968)
Andrew Zolinsky (piano)
Recorded: Potton Hall, Suffolk, December 2001
GUILD GMCD 7241 [71:13]


The earliest works here, both dating from 1968, obviously belong to Baer’s modern or experimental period, and are stylistically redolent of Boulez or Stockhausen. Angular phrases, complex rhythms and sharp contrasts characterise both Sequenzen and Zwei Klavierstücke, though the latter already points towards a freer expression, particularly so in the first piece Threnos.

All the other pieces are fairly recent and clearly reflect Baer’s stylistic journey towards a more colourful and more expressive palette. The music of Passagen, composed between 1996 and 1998, is more overtly impressionistic. This is quite evident in Passagen III, and still more so in its third movement Souvenir. "It is up to the listener to draw his own reminiscences from the character of the piece" (pace the composer). This seems to me a homage to Debussy. (It may also be useful to know that the titles of the three movements are in French and that the second movement is inspired by a walk in a park in Paris known as La promenade plantée.) Other movements in Passagen also betray their inspirational origin in painting, e.g. Sonnenbild (in Passagen I) or The Painter’s Delight (in Passagen II), both inspired by paintings by Hoenich. Instrumental colour is paramount in these works and it is sometimes achieved by some extra-musical devices, such as in the third piece Epitaph for Anton Webern (in Passagen I) in which the outer, chorale-like sections have an eerie tint obtained by laying a stick over the strings. This is actually the only "gimmick" used by the composer, and quite discretely so.

The most recent work, Erscheinungen from 2000, is a substantial piece of music, and incidentally the longest single item. Its title (i.e. Visions) has no religious or mystical overtones, but rather refers to the mysterious chorales emerging on several occasions in the course of the piece between the other, livelier and more animated sections. Again, the listener’s fancy may imagine his/her own visions; but the inspiration for the music draws again on Hoenich’s paintings.

Walter Baer’s name and music were, I confess, completely new to me. Eminently idiomatic, though often rather taxing piano writing that calls for much colour, imagination and tonal variety on the performer’s part. Andrew Zolinsky obviously possesses all the qualities required to get the best of these fine and attractive pieces that generously repay repeated hearings. Now, I really look forward to hearing more of Walter Baer’s music.

Hubert Culot

But Gary Higginson asks
Question. What kind of music would a man born in Zurich in 1928 compose? Time up. I shall reveal the answer in due course.
Stockhausen was born then, Henze in 1926, Berio in 1925. It’s useful to think of Baer, who is a well known figure in German musical life in this context because his music is mostly not at all what you might expect. The biographical notes in the booklet comment "The various compositional techniques and systems only make sense to me if they convey a message the listener can participate in". He ends up being one of the most eclectic composers I have ever encountered. I’ll talk you through a few pieces to give you an idea.
‘Passagen’, probably best translated not as passages, which conveys little, but as possibly, pathways, and like all paths they lead to somewhere else. Each path though is enjoyable in itself, but there is no attempt by the composer to connect them, at least not in a way that I could discover. So ‘Passagen I’ begins with ‘Widmung’ meaning ‘Dedication’, here to the musical pedagogue Wolfgang Roscher whose name is spelt out in the music. The style or soundworld of this piece reminds me of Bartók in places, and a brief fugue develops based on these letters, perhaps another Bartókian idea. It winds chromatically in a rather learned way in four parts. At its climax unison figure announces the end of the fugue and the movement winds up quickly. The second movement ‘Sunpainting’ is impressionistic; it is inspired by the work of the painter P.K. Hoenich and obviously is partly responsible for giving the CD its title. A wash of right hand semi-quavers and/or tremolandi accompany a left-hand melody not unlike the chimes of Big Ben. Debussy might be brought to mind, but a watered-down Debussy.
Movement 3 ‘Epitaph for Anton Webern’ starts off with a gamelan noise. Some of the strings of the piano have been laid over with a stick, and both of these things remind me more of John Cage. The stick is then removed and the composition becomes pointillistic, not completely atonal, but more Webern. It is the longest of the three in the set. The opening returns for the last minute or so.
Other pieces on the disc include another impressionist interpretation of the work of Hoenich, - movement 3 of ‘Passagen II’ entitled the ‘Sunpainter’s Delight’; Movement 2 is an evocative re-enactment of the bells of the composer’s hometown, Zurich, with its myriad bells ringing out.
Passagen III opens with a wash of French type sound, which is in fact in homage to J.S. Bach with the B.A.C.H motif used throughout. For me though, Ravel was brought to mind.
I hope that I have conveyed some impression of the music and its background. I’m sorry to say that for me it lacks structural integrity and a real character of its own. Although the music is rarely unattractive it can often be dull and repetitive.
The booklet notes written by the composer are too succinct to be really useful. The playing of Andrew Zolinsky is exemplary and he seems really to believe in the music and is, anyway, a regular performer of contemporary music. The recording is perfectly good and only enhances the music. But there is little here I feel to retain much interest.
Gary Higginson

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