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.
'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.
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
For reviews of other volumes in this series,
1 - Kevin Sutton and Volumes 4 &
5 - Tony Haywood