Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 3 in D minora (1896) [104’51].
York HÖLLER (b.1940)

Der Ewige Tag (2001) [23’41].
aMarjana Lipovšek (contralto); aGirls and Boys from Cologne Cathedral Choir; WDR Chorus and Symphony Orchestra, Cologne/Semyon Bychkov.
‘Based on’ live recordings in the Kölner Philharmonie in January 2002 (Mahler) and September 2001 (Höller). DDD
AVIE AV0019 [63’58 + 64’47]


Although it is difficult to imagine many purchasing this set for the 24-minute Höller, it is nevertheless there where the principal attraction lies. York Höller’s music has never really taken off in the UK, for no good reason that I can determine. Der Ewige Tag (‘The Eternal Day’, for orchestra and choir) is an intense and tautly-argued essay that progresses on several levels: through time in the choice of its texts (‘The Morning’, by Ibn Sharaf; ‘The Day’, by Georg Heym, and finally ‘The Night in Isla Negra’ by Pablo Neruda), through space (the three poems move from East to West) and through extended time in the traversal of three epochs (Oriental Middle Ages – early modern era – present day).

The booklet note gives in some detail Höller’s theoretic ideas of Klanggestalt (inspired by the DNA sequence, and which determines the work’s minutiae). As so often with this composer, there is some sort of electronic intervention (it was, after all, written to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the WDR Studio for Electronic Music), and here it is the sampled harp sounds that are of note. One thing is for sure – the Cologne orchestra relishes the challenge (in fact they almost seem at home with it). The sometimes violent, sometimes shadowy world encompasses also two quotes from Mahler (a neat link to the main body of this set). But here the origin is from the Seventh Symphony, and the link is to Night (around 13’40 and 18’45ff). The quotes are certainly nightmarish. If only the poetry was translated (Höller’s title, incidentally, comes form the umbrella title of Heym’s 1911 poetry collection). Bychkov’s strengths are heard here full-force. He can delineate textures expertly without falling into the trap of being overly clinical. Höller’s disturbing dreamscape is revealed in all its dark majesty (QUOTE 1).

Recorded at the time of the work’s première, the Höller is of course alone in the catalogue. The same can hardly be said of the Mahler Third. Klaus Tennstedt on EMI with the LPO has long held my affection and Bychkov cannot displace him. Neither can he upstage Boulez or Abbado. But he nevertheless has much to recommend him. The recording is exemplary (detail is excellent) and the fifth movement, ‘Es sungen drei Engel’ is as lusty as could be from the girls and boys of Cologne Cathedral. If only Bychkov was able to enter into Mahler’s shadowy side. His clinical approach eschews the ominous tread of a nightmarish processional and he can gloss over the composer’s bizarrist side. Romantic gestures can be under-projected. Take away Mahler’s Romanticism and one is left with a deconstruction that needs to be very carefully handled (à la Sinopoli on a good day; Boulez, too, can carry this approach convincingly). Having stripped down the surface, Bychkov seems to offer too little in return, despite the orchestra’s willingness to play its socks off for him.

The second movement is perhaps not as innocent (or even faux-innocent) as it could be, although episodes can be shadowy. The third movement features an excellent post-horn player (Peter Mönkediek) and some similarly excellent French Horn playing (although the latter is too closely-miked). Lipovšek is marvellously creamy of tone. The finale sums up the performance. It is intelligently shaped and balanced, very expertly played yet not the shattering, emotionally exhausting experience it can be in greater hands.

In summary, the Höller is required listening (in LudwigvanWeb terms, it fully deserves a ‘Ludwig Forever’ rating). Endlessly fertile and a worthy pointer to further explorations of this composer’s music, this disc’s international distribution should at the very least further the Höllerian cause. I doubt, however, that I shall be returning to the Mahler with any regularity.

Colin Clarke


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