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Wolfgang RIHM (b. 1952)
1. Symphony No.1 Op.3 (1969) [10:16]
2. Symphony No.2 (1975) [14:17]
3. Nachtwach (1987/8) [10:10]
4. Vers une symphonie fleuve III (1992/5) [22:57]
5. Raumauge (1994) [05:01]
SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart (3,5); Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR (1-4); Jonathan Stockhammer (1,2), Markus Creed (3), Gianluigi Gelmetti (4), Rupert Huber (5)
rec. Stadtshalle, Sindelfingen, 5-8 November 2007 (1,2); Villa Berg, Stuttgart, 14-15 September 2004 (3); Liederhalle, Stuttgart, 25 October 1995 (4) and Theaterhaus, Stuttgart, 20 January 1994 (5)
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC CD 93.227 [65:11]
Experience Classicsonline

This is the third volume of a continuing series devoted to Rihm’s music. Hänssler have already released four volumes of his music including the large-scale ballet Tutuguri - reviewed here some time ago. Given Rihm’s incredibly prolific output, a Rihm Edition is an almost impossible task. His output is uneven in quality as is that of many other prolific composers. However a good deal of it deserves to be preserved in recordings. This volume includes works from each end of his compositional career. The first two symphonies date from 1969 and 1975 respectively and the most recent work here Vers une symphonie fleuve III is from 1995.
One of Rihm’s earliest works, his Symphony No.1 Op.3, is inscribed “In memoriam Karl Amadeus Hartmann”. The music of its two movements - a short, explosive Appassionato and a longer, turbulent, often expressionist Adagio - clearly brings Hartmann’s music to mind. This kinship continues to this day. To label a piece of music a symphony and to allocate it an opus number was a rather provocative decision on the young composer’s part at a time when the very notion of symphony was anathema to a certain musical establishment. However, the most remarkable feature of this technically assured work is that the music already displays most of Rihm’s fingerprints. These include a violent, often aggressive Expressionism, a liking for dynamic extremes and for massive brass - and percussion-led scoring. Rihm’s First Symphony is no mean achievement for a seventeen years old composer.
The Symphony No.2 of 1975, ironically subtitled “Erster and letzter Satz” (“First and last movements”), opens with a skeletal introduction - a simple slow crescendo in the lower strings. This gives way to a more developed section not unlike the Adagio of the First Symphony leading straight into a caricature of a funeral march ending with a brief restatement of the opening.
Alongside these examples from Rihm’s huge orchestral output, this release also includes two choral works, albeit ones with accompaniment. I do not know whether or not Nachtwach (“Night Watch”) for eight vocal soloists, mixed chorus and four trombones relates to Rembrandt’s celebrated canvas. It may however be experienced as a processional moving at a moderate pace, albeit disrupted and punctuated by sharper accents. As with several other works by Rihm, its layout calls for spatial effects achieved by placing the vocal soloists and the trombones in front of the audience and the chorus behind it. Unlike Nachtwach which is for wordless chorus, Raumauge for chorus and percussion is a short setting of Peter Handke’s translation of the final monologue from Aeschylus’s Prometheus Bound. Here Rihm relies on a number of ‘modern’ vocal techniques.
The most substantial work is Vers une symphonie fleuve III. This is the third part of a huge orchestral project Vers une symphonie fleuve - there are now five of them. To a certain extent, it may be considered its slow movement. It begins a bit tentatively from the depths of the orchestra. Textures open up slowly and progressively. Various contrasting fragments collide without any apparent concern for continuity, whereas the lower strings vainly attempt providing coherence. Ambiguity prevails until the final stage of the work when an almost Brucknerian chorale emerges from the orchestral turmoil. The music of the final bars simply thins out into empty space.
These recordings - presumably drawn from the SWR’s archives - are excellent and the sound quality is often quite stunning. Rihm’s fans will certainly need no further recommendation. This release coupling early and later works of contrasted character may be safely recommended to those who may know Rihm’s name but little, if any, of his music.
Hubert Culot


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