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Bernd Alois ZIMMERMANN (1918-1970)
Requiem für einen jungen Dichter (1967/69)
Claudia Barainsky (soprano); David Pittman-Jennings (baritone); Michael Rotschopf (sprecher I); Lutz Lansemann (sprecher II)
Tschechischer Philharmonischer Chor Brno (chor I); Slowakischer Philharmoniker Chor (chor II); Europachorakademie (chor III)
Eric Vloiemans Quintet (jazz quintet); Jan Hage (orgel); Joao Rafael (klangregie)
Holland Symfonia/Bernhard Kontarsky
rec. 23 June 2005, Concertgebouw Haarlem and Dutchview, Hilversum.
CYBELE 860.501 [63:10]
Experience Classicsonline

Bernd Alois Zimmermann is a name to be reckoned with in music of the 20th century and beyond. It stands for something rather apart from the modernist Darmstadt trends in post-war Germany with which it might most immediately be associated. Zimmermann encountered the music of Stravinsky and Milhaud while serving in the army. After being invalided out of the army in 1942 he was able to return to studies with Philipp Jarnach, also attending courses given by Fortner and Leibowitz at Darmstadt in 1948-50. From 1957 he taught at the Cologne Musikhochschule. He ultimately rejected serialist orthodoxy, though his opera Die Soldaten (1965), generally reckoned to be his masterpiece, brings to a climax and by some accounts closes the non-tonal Alban Berg line of operatic musical history. The Requiem für einen jungen Dichter was his last large-scale work. After its completion he suffered a breakdown, eventually committing suicide in August 1970.
 
This recent SACD recording is significant for a number of reasons. As the extensive score and stage plans in the excellent booklet notes show, there are eight tape channels - one on each side and corner of the performing space. There are four choirs, front, back, and each side, and the orchestra is widely spaced on the front podium. My experience of such concerts is that one is always lumbered with a seat too far from the ideal equidistant position from each of these elements, and as a worst case, parked under one or other speaker. With this recording you at least have the luxury of knowing you have the best seat in the house - every time. Even in stereo the music is haunting, monumental, complex, dramatic, threatening, multifaceted, many layered: the booklet notes promise those unfamiliar with the work that “you will experience something never experienced before”, and I have no intention of denying this. 
 
This piece is a deeply linguistic one, and with Zimmermann’s tapes newly restored the voices and effects on the tape create a chilling, impersonal atmosphere. There are too many sources to list, but include Molly Bloom’s Monologue from James Joyce’s Ulysses, papal addresses, political speeches by Dubcek, Hitler, Chamberlain, Camus, Schwitters. The literary or political quotes are in read in German, but the surrealism of context, fragmentation and juxtaposition creates its own atmosphere even where the language might be beyond comprehension. There are moments which remind one of that Number Nine track on the Beatles’ White Album, and indeed, there is a fragment of ‘Hey Jude’ towards the end of the movement. All of these quotes and fragments are very usefully listed and time-checked in the booklet  notes. The disproportionately long Prolog/Requiem I expresses the conflict between desire and reality through quotations of the West German Basic Law set against Mao Zedong’s Red Book. Freedom, ideology, liberation, human dignity, struggle and death – all of these issues dealt with in a vast dramatic canvas give some idea, it is to be hoped, of the state of mind you will reach on experiencing this initial Requiem.
 
The first Prolog/Requiem I is almost equal to the time of the other five movements put together. Rappresentazione continues the elongated choral chords, but has its emphasis on the live musicians rather than the tape. The soloists sing an Ezra Pound text concerning a threatened paradise on earth, and pianos and brass push grand and dramatic sonic gestures through static choral textures. This is followed by a short Elegia, an island of peace in which the soprano is accompanied by the jazz quintet. There is a transition, Tratto, which brings us back into more troubled musical worlds in the Lamento. Here another apparent contradiction is at work, with an ecstatic expression of the text, ‘Obituary for Sergey Yesenin’, which tells of an ongoing suicide, or one about to happen. Rising choral textures topped by sustained notes from the soloists and percussion punctuation create a vast wave of sound which has tremendous impact.
 
The Lamento is a powerful movement in its own right, but also exists as a prelude to the concluding Dona Nobis Pacem which re-introduces the fragmented and overlapping speeches and musical fragments on the tape. Some of these are World War II speeches which have their own difficult associations, and add to an atmosphere of violence and fear. The Dona Nobis Pacem or ‘call for peace’ comes as a plea from the choirs, and the whole thing builds to an incredible climax of quotes, cries and imprecations both live and recorded, musical and spoken. A montage of the sounds of political demonstrations frames and dissolves this chaotic crisis, and is only followed by a coda, a text from Konrad Bayer - repeated and thrown around the auditorium, “..as everyone knows..” “Question: What to hope for?” - not just these words, but a gradual transformation of meaning like the traversal of a panorama by M.C. Escher. The last questioning words are answered with a final tutti, ‘Dona Nobis Pacem.’
 
As far as I can see, the only other recordings of this work previously available were the 1989 Wergo WDR co-production conducted by Gary Bertini, and the 1995 Sony version conducted by Michael Gielen, to my shame neither of which I know. What I do know is that on SACD surround-sound stakes alone this recent Cybele recording takes the laurels, revealing the all-important spatial aspects of this piece to the greatest extent possible in a domestic environment. This is not a piece for the faint-hearted, and I could feel my face growing perceptibly longer as the work progressed. Nobody is suggesting that the Requiem for a Young Poet exists to bring cheer on a rainy day. The spiritual and intellectual journey on which one is taken is one from which the listener emerges somewhat wasted, but emotionally moved and empowered. There aren’t that many musical works and recordings which can lay claim to being life-changing experiences, but this one certainly holds that power for me. The performance is high-octane and totally committed, and the recording in the Haarlem Concertgebouw conveys the musical vibrancy of the performance as well as the scale of the venue. This is no easy listen, and you are free to ignore this release as being beyond your usual brew. As a place to be, I will certainly be picking my moments to ‘go there’ with care, but this kind of thing was tailor-made for SACD surround fans who appreciate powerful contemporary music. If you fancy giving your consciousness a deeply serious kick up the backside then this is a tremendous place to explore beyond the beige.
 
Dominy Clements         
 

 


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