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Thomas LARCHER (b.1963) 
Ixxu
String quartet (1998-2004) [13:36]
My illness is the medicine I need
for soprano, violin, violoncello and piano (2002) [14:16]
Mumien
for violoncello and piano (2001/02) [12:01]
Cold Farmer
String quartet (1990) [13:16]
Rosamunde Quartett
Andrea Lauren Brown (soprano)
Christoph Poppen (violin)
Thomas Demenga (violoncello)
Thomas Larcher (piano)
rec. July 2005, August-Everding-Saal, Grünwald
ECM NEW SERIES 1967 [53:59]


 

Thomas Larcher is a new name to me, but then, there are so many names yet to be discovered by all of us. I am glad I have been given the chance to listen to this. Having recently taken the plunge and bought a new old car, I now have a new new CD radio player to go with it. Listening to this while stopped at the lights, window rolled down in the unseasonably warm October weather, turned more heads at the tram stop than any booming heavy disco!

The programme on this CD consists of four world premiere recordings. The two substantial string quartets which open and close the disc are Ixxu and Cold Farmer, vividly performed by the Munich-based Rosamunde Quartet, whose ECM recordings have traversed an exceptionally wide range of musics from Haydn to Saluzzi, from Webern to Mansurian, and from Burian to Silvestrov. My Illness is the Medicine I Need marks the ECM debut of the young American soprano Andrea Lauren Brown and the first recorded appearance of Christoph Poppen (violin) since his collaboration with the Hilliard Ensemble in the Bach album Morimur. The cellist, Thomas Demenga, Larcher’s longstanding musical comrade-in-arms also plays Mumien with the composer himself at the piano.

Thomas Larcher, himself an acclaimed performer states, “My roots lie in performance, and in decades of imprinting through the music and formal ideas of the classics. My music is communicative: it challenges the attentive listener but is meant to be readily intelligible in concert.” This is indeed the case. Ixxu is in a thoroughly modern idiom, but with moments of shimmering beauty and an overall rhythmic energy which is quite compulsive, there are all the ingredients one needs to make an interesting piece all the more rewarding on repeated hearing. There is something Bartók-like about some of the gestures, and if you love that great Hungarian’s work you will surely enjoy Ixxu.

My Illness is the Medicine I Need has texts taken from Benetton’s ‘Colors’ magazine (issue 47), which has a photo-reportage of psychiatric hospitals from around the world. . Larcher explains, “I fished out the sayings that were less explicit, statements that any of us may have thought in one form or another. I usually have a fairly hard time with lyric poetry. The more polished and flawless the poem, the less room remains for music. But here the words function like a magnet, pulling the music into alignment.” Despite the subject matter there is little of the alienation you might expect. There is a little of Stravinsky in Eat and Sleep…and I don’t know why I’m here… has an almost Pärt like simplicity of line. Andrea Lauren Brown has quite an attractive and light vocal sound - by which I don’t mean lightweight - having plenty of dynamic impact where required and a remarkable range to go with it.

Mumien (Mummies) is given an enigmatic programme note by Larcher, but the association with desiccated remains is aptly represented by stopped and damped piano strings with dry thumping and harmonic rich percussive effects. “I write for ‘classical’ musicians who like being challenged”, Larcher says. In his pieces, notions of virtuosity are pursued to the limits, raising the expressive energy another notch in degree and intensity. In Mumien this obsessive quality comes through in the intense and rhythmically incessant second movement, marked simply Schneller, while the final langsam barely exists at all.

Cold Farmer “was like stepping into the unknown and the threatening” for the composer, but for the listener there are plenty of accessible handles. There are some folk-like elements in the violin, some Shostakovich-like moments of repose, the stability of pedal notes and ostinati, sometimes transparently expressive melodic lines, and all of the emotional swings and roundabouts that you would want from a good string quartet. There are no direct references to the title, so we are left wondering as to its origins – maybe even left to invent our own. “This was land occupied by the loneliest farm imaginable. Eking a livelihood from ground by turns sodden with unyielding clay, or arid and sandy shell-strewn grit, had never been easy. The tradition here was one of pride in adversity, and the cold farmer had given his whole life to a struggle against the elements, the environment, and marginal returns from an unsympathetic economy.” The music here is expressive but uncompromising, filled with gritty passion and unfulfilled longings.

Against all preconceptions and expectations I have enjoyed this typically well-recorded CD from ECM immensely, and recommend it wholeheartedly. It’s the musical equivalent of a strong, black cup of coffee – not something you want at all times of the day, but essential to get you going when the need is there.

Dominy Clements      

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