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Leaving Home: Orchestral Music of the 20th Century – After the Wake.
A conducted tour by Sir Simon Rattle with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.
Includes a bonus film of Stockhausen's Gruppen.
PCM Stereo. 4:3. Region Code 0.
ARTHAUS MUSIK 102 043 [50'00]


This is a tremendous package. 'Package' in the sense that it combines intelligent documentary with a valuable performance of Stockhausen's Gruppen. Daniel Harding and John Carewe are the guest conductors.
 
The documentary, 'After the Wake', examines music's reactions to the Second World War, from Richard Strauss' warmly autumnal Vier letzte Lieder through Schoenberg's Survivor from Warsaw to Stravinsky's acerbic ballet Agon through to the Stockhausen. There is no doubting Rattle's enthusiasm for his subject - his knowledge should surely almost be taken for granted! I remain uncertain as to whether he is the most natural guide, though. His delivery is rather studied, but this should be balanced against the sheer number of relevant musical excerpts provided and, indeed, the touching, sometimes harrowing black-and-white footage that is used to illustrate the War's insanities: bombed cities, lines of people walking aimlessly, dejectedly.
 
Schoenberg's Survivor from Warsaw is possibly the single one of his works that speaks absolutely straight to the heart. Rattle's performance pulls no punches. And then historically, as Rattle puts it, 'suddenly, complexity was king' ... and how! What with the integral serialism of Boulez and his Structures, plus the experiments of Stockhausen. At the head of all this, of course, was Olivier Messiaen, teaching from his composition class in Paris, where the remit was to relearn how to listen. Boulez's Marteau and Stockhausen's Gruppen are held as representative. Rattle admits of the latter that he does not understand all of it but likes the way it sounds!
 
From there to Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings is something of a quantum leap, while Stravinsky provides a “Pocket-Sized History of Music”. Agon seems to fit this description perfectly, with its come-and-go use of serialism.
 
But it is the performance of Gruppen that makes the purchase of this DVD worthwhile. If in the last analysis it lacks the sheer confident punch of Abbado's classic DG recording (Berliner Philharmoniker on 447 761-2, coupled with Kurtag's Stele and Grabstein für Stephan), this DVD remains a refreshingly original issue.
 
Colin Clarke

For reviews of other volumes in this series, see:

Volume 1 - Kevin Sutton and Volumes 4 & 5 - Tony Haywood

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