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Vinko GLOBOKAR (b. 1934)
Der Engel der Geschichte (2000-2004) [92:00]
Les Otages (2003) [30:15]
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg/Fabrice Bollon and Martyn Brabbins, Experimentalstudio des SWR, Freiburg (Engel)
Symfonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Arturo Tamayo (Otages)
rec. 16-17 September 2004 Hall of the Tennis Club, Strasbourg(Engel) and 1 December 2006, Herkulessaal der Residenz, Munich (Otages)
COL LEGNO WWE2SACD 20609 [59:32 + 62:13]
Experience Classicsonline

Globokar began his musical career as a jazz musician before formal studies in Paris for composition and trombone, working eventually under Luciano Berio’s guidance. Just before he began work on the pieces recorded here, Globokar concluded a 19-year stint as instructor at the School of Music in Florence. He now resides in Paris.
This release is quite a wild ride. The first — and largest — work presented here, The Angel of History, is to some extent an ekphrastic work, based on the Paul Klee painting titled Angelus Novus. It is also, as the composer states, “a sound fresco of the time I am living in.” Considering the range of years in which the piece was composed, one can well imagine the overall tone of the piece. This is a large-scale, ambitious work, for two ensembles of considerable force, each with a conductor. In addition, the score calls for pre-recorded tape feeds of folk music, live “electronic alienation” of the second orchestra, and two samplers. The first half-hour long section depicts a musical descent into a sort of police state, with the first orchestra, as the composer mentions, implying “a democratic system gradually sinking into totalitarianism”. The second orchestra, with snippets of folk music from the former Yugoslavian regions on pre-recorded tape, portrays “a specific power shaken by nationalist tendencies”. Heavy stuff, indeed.
Most chilling is the second part of the piece, intended to portray “a police state ending in anarchy”. The movement begins with faint shufflings and ghostly harmonics on strings. It crackles with fear and paranoia, crashes, footfalls in darkness, and an eerie aftermath, with the music of the orchestra dissolving in static, as if from a public-address system left on, with no-one left to man the microphone or to hear the broadcast.
The final movement, entitled Hoffnung [Hope], shows the conflict still unresolved, with a gradual awakening from the rain-like static, but with, as the composer mentions, “positive and negative” aspects of the ensembles in constant superimposition. The movement holds out, as the title suggests, the possibility that the positive might win out, at least temporarily.
So how on earth does this epic work sound? As one can imagine, any work that takes on such a context certainly demands a great deal from the performers and their audience. At times, the flirtations of the piece with all-out chaos remind this reviewer of George Antheil’s wild Ballet Mécanique in its original form, with a barrage of player-pianos, sirens, airplane propeller and piles of percussive hardware. The underlying emotion here is far darker, however, with marching troops and all-out wars, surmounted fleetingly by the folk music of one particular region over another.
The second work here presented, Les Otages (The Hostages), sets an aural landscape, with distant horns, guard-dogs barking, animal noises, and almost subliminal hints at Beethoven. The pairing of this harrowing piece with Der Engel der Geschichte does make sense in that they both draw from the same difficult space, even borrow snippets of the same folk recordings. Les Otages moves occasionally a bit too close to its material, calling for groans and vocal oof!-type interjections toward the middle of the work. Les Otages is at its most interesting when it focuses relentlessly on a musical portrayal of the atrocities, where it breaks off and allows for real tension to develop, as it does in the onset of the second half of the work. The same high demand is made upon orchestra and listener, which for many will make this release a very arduous two hours of listening indeed.
Considering the first work’s massive orchestral forces and electronic interventions, it makes sense that this would be released as an SACD, which provides the necessary definition, not only giving a better sense of the two groups, but also placing the listener in the centre of the maelstrom.
This is not, at least for this reviewer, something to listen to every day, but it is an intriguing — and occasionally quite harrowing — release in Col Legno’s groundbreaking series of contemporary works.
David Blomenberg

see also review by Dominy Clements



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