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Cristóbal HALFFTER (b. 1930)
Odradek (1996) [20:24]
Dortmunder Variationen (1986/7) [18:10]
Tiento del primer tono y battalla imperial (1986) [10:35]
Radio-Sinfonie-Orchester Frankfurt/Cristóbal Halffter
rec. Hessischer Rundfunk, Sendesaal, Frankfurt am Main, October 1998. DDD
COL LEGNO WWE 20204 [51:46]

As will be seen later in this review, the disc under review might easily have been titled “Anniversaries”, since each of these works was written to commemorate some anniversary.
The earliest, Tiento del primer tono y batalla imperial (“The touch of the first note and imperial battle”) was composed in 1986 as a tribute to Paul Sacher on his 80th birthday. This short orchestral piece, actually a Prelude and Toccata, is based on two organ works by Spanish composers: El tiento del primer tono by Antonio de Cabezón and La batalla imperial by Juan Bautista José Cabanilles. Halffter does not set out merely to orchestrate those pieces, even if the tunes are presented in a fairly straightforward way. The dignified opening based on the Cabezón is eventually disturbed by some aggressive dissonances leading into a short bridge section featuring the well-known Basle drum; cf. Liebermann’s Geigy Festival Concerto and Honegger’s Fourth Symphony. This leads straight into the second, dynamic section that concludes this short homage in sonorous martial tones. An occasional work but superbly done and one of Halffter’s most accessible pieces and a brilliant concert-opener.
The Dortmunder Variationen were commissioned for the 100th anniversary of the Dortmund Philharmonic Orchestra, which is why the piece is based on D, since the name of Dortmund begins and ends with a D. In spite of its title, the work has very little to do with any traditional theme and variations. It has much more to do with a concerto for orchestra with an overtly festive character but one which does not exclude “moments of reflection and even drama” (as the composer puts it). It falls into several segments highlighting the various orchestral sections. It opens with brilliant, if at times harsh brass fanfares leading into quieter interludes abruptly interrupted by the percussion. A long tutti then leads into a string-dominated section. The rest of the orchestra joins in for another dynamic climactic section capped by a restatement of the opening fanfare which assertively concludes the piece.
Subtitled “Hommage à Franz Kafka”, Odradek was commissioned by the Czech Philharmonic for its 100th anniversary. Odradek is a word of Slavic or German origin meaning “advise against” or “lure away”. As Kafka himself put it, “the uncertainty of both interpretations allows one to assume with justice that neither is accurate, especially as neither of them provides an intelligent meaning of the word”. Odradek is one of Kafka’s curious creations in his story Die Sorge des Hausvaters (“The Cares of a Family Man”), which I have never read. As the composer tells in his notes, Odradek has human features, walks on two legs that are not genuine, speaks something that sounds like a language but is not. The composer leaves the whole thing to the listener’s imagination. What one hears is a substantial, colourful orchestral work alternating a wide range of moods in an almost surreal manner. In this he avoids pastiche or collage providing a piece that may be best listened to as purely abstract music. A truly magnificent work.
Cristóbal Halffter has painstakingly moulded his musical voice over his long and prolific composing life. His often complex, meticulously worked-out music retains a strongly communicative power, which is this composer’s most endearing characteristic.
The composer conducts vital readings of his scores and gets a formidably committed response, which makes this under-filled release a welcome addition to his discography.
Hubert Culot


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