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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    


Mauricio KAGEL (born 1931)
Rrrrrrr... (1980/1)a
Ludwig van (1969)b
Der Eid des Hippokrates (1984)a
Unguis incarnatus est (1972)c
MM 51 (1976)
Alexandre Tharaud (piano); Philippe Bernold (flute)b; Hervé Joulain (horn)b; François Le Roux (baritone)b; Eric Le Sage (piano)a; Marc Marder (double bass)c; Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello)b; Ronald van Spaendonck (clarinet)b; Choeur Rémusatb
Recorded: Ircam – Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, December 2002
AEON AECD 0311 [55:35]


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Kagel’s music is unlike anything else in 20th Century music, and defies any attempt at easy classification. It often revisits older music or various musical forms and styles in an overtly iconoclastic manner with some devastating black humour. It also has some theatrical gesturing. For Kagel, things are never taken for granted, even in works such as Ludwig van, subtitled Homage to Beethoven, conceived as a sincere homage to this composer. It includes a number of quotations from Beethoven’s works and revisits them in a contemporary perspective, as if questioning them as to their actual present significance. The most obvious example of this is, I think, the eighth movement in which the final Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is hammered out by baritone and piano, as if asking whether Schiller’s and Beethoven’s generous, if utopian vision of universal brotherhood is still valid in our times. This score was originally written to accompany a film on Beethoven made during Beethoven year in 1970 and reworked as the present piece for small ensemble, baritone and small chorus.

Rrrrrrr... is a radiophonic piece (the composer calls it a Radio-Phantasie) made of forty-one autonomous pieces, all with titles beginning with the letter R as found in a musical encyclopaedia (e.g. ragtime, râga) and scored for various forces. Some of them, originally composed for organ, have been transcribed for piano (two or four hands), and are the ones recorded here. One of them (Rossignols enrhumés) is the most striking in that it has been transcribed for prepared piano, thus conjuring a mysterious sound world. The whole set is highly entertaining and not without a pinch of tongue-in-cheek humour.

Der Eid des Hippokrates ("Hippocrates’ Oath") for piano (three hands) is yet another curious short work of black humour. One hand keeps softly drumming on the piano as if spelling the first words of Hippocrates’ Oath. The very title of Unguis incarnatus est is another revealing example of Kagel’s sense of humour (echoes of Satie here) in that unguis incarnatus is a medical term whereas the phrase incarnatus est, of course, originates from the Mass’s Credo. It is written for piano and ... (i.e. any bass sustaining instrument, in this case a double bass). It also includes theatrical gestures, especially at the very end, when the exhausted patient gives out his last breath. MM 51 is for piano and metronome (set at Maelzel 51, of course). This short score is, so to say, a skeleton of Schönberg’s Begleitungsmusik zu einer Lichtspielszene although totally unrelated to it, musically speaking. The various musical episodes roughly follow some hidden scenario similar to that devised by Schönberg and allude to some movie clichés of yesteryear. They unfold over the imperturbably ticking metronome (which sometimes cause rhythms to run riot) until the poor victim is brutally strangled at the end.

As already mentioned, Kagel’s music is decidedly idiosyncratic, and its impact greatly depends on how one is likely to react to his emotional and musical content. It may amuse or irritate, it may fascinate or be frankly boring; but it never leave you indifferent.

Alexandre Tharaud and his colleagues put all their heart into this often whimsical music, and get deep under the surface of these often ambiguous works. Above all, and most importantly, they perform these pieces with utter earnestness. AEON’s production and recording are again excellent. Kagel devotees will need no further recommendation; others might have to sample this disc before eventually deciding whether this music is for them or not.

Hubert Culot



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