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CD: AmazonUK AmazonUS

Günther BECKER (1924-2007)
The Complete Organ Works
Drei kleine Orgelstücke (1978) [8:04]
A la mémoire de Josquin (1975) [16:05]
Interpolationen (1993) [11:42]
Meteoron for Organ, Percussion and two track tape (1969) [14:19] 
Martin Schmeding (Organ), Christian Roderburg (percussion in Meteoron)
rec. 28 March and 21-22 May 2008, Sauer Organ (2004), Evangelische Auferstehungskirche, Düsseldorf-Oberkassel (Germany)
CYBELE 060.701 [50:12] [image]
Experience Classicsonline

Günther Becker is yet another relatively unfamiliar name to whose music we are introduced in spectacular fashion on this SACD from Cybele. The works on this disc span a fair cross-section of Becker’s work, but come from a period after numerous years of study, and twelve years living and working in Greece as a music teacher. He moved back to Germany in 1968, working as a freelance composer but also at a high level in musical life as a professor and lecturer. For a number of years in the 1970s he was president of the German sector of the ISCM.

Becker’s own claim is that he allowed each work to develop its own individual idea rather than being contained within a single personal style is represented by contrasting but consistently high standards in his pieces for organ. The names of Ligeti and Kagel are cited in the booklet notes as influences which took the church-music aligned Becker beyond the more confined traditions of previous generations represented by composers such as Hugo Distler. Not taken in chronological order, we are sensibly eased into the programme with the Drei kleine Orgelstücke. It seems virtually unavoidable to evoke the name of Messiaen when it comes to talking about organ composition from the last century, but of all the pieces on this disc this first set of short movements has the most in common with that French master’s meditations. There are attractive ideas and a wide variety of colours and exploratory gestures in the Drei kleine Orgelstücke, but aside from some more individual dissonances and some juddering repetitions, the general atmosphere and harmonic/melodic content kept bringing me back to Paris rather than Dusseldorf.

A la mémoire de Josquin can be seen as something of a new direction when taken in the context of the more overtly experimental Metoreon which preceded it. Using recognisable quotations from the masses of Josquin Desprez, these moments form interludes which interrupt a sequence of sections which develop considerably more dramatic and intense material. The heightened drama of contrasting modern complexity with ancient polyphony is mostly handled with a light touch and a good deal of subtlety, while presenting little in the way of shock to modern ears well used to this kind of fusion. I would personally have preferred greater integration rather than the more cut and paste collage approach found here, but there is still much to tease and fascinate the ear and mind in this piece.

Interpolationen was Becker’s last work for organ. Written with the instruction “senza misura”, the work does avoid a sense of strict development, conjuring rather a ‘stream of consciousness’ flow of more or less related ideas and sonorities. Without easy references or as many stylistic access points as the previous works, Interpolationen has an atonal soundworld which makes it a little less accessible. It still however has plenty of traditional organ technical fingerprints to provide semantic handles throughout, and it does sound as if Martin Schmeding is having a blast, giving the Sauer instrument a real workout.

The earliest and most experimental composition on this disc is also its remarkable finale. Meteoron comes from a period in which the seemingly endless possibilities in electronic music contributed new dimensions and directions for numerous composers. Becker’s work was written for the “Week of Sacred Music for Our Time” held in Kassel in 1969, and aside from the churchy associations with the organ, there are also bell sounds from percussion and tape, as well as choral and sibilant vocal fragments. The overall impression is one of a sound landscape or sculpture, the shapes creating vibrant imagery in the mind, an abstract literary narrative capable of many kinds of interpretation, but rewarding an open imagination. The effects of the human voice and its transformations played alongside ringing percussion and a relatively under-played organ all serve to create an unsettling atmosphere, ghostly and intangible, as well as tapping fairly directly into what must have been a pervasive period avant-garde zeitgeist.

The packaging for this disc is well up to Cybele’s usual fine standards, and includes informative texts by Oskar Gottlieb Blarr and Dominik Susteck. Driven by the technical and musical mastery of Martin Schmeding, the great Sauer organ displays real sonic versatility, its many colours suited to Günther Becker’s vast range of demands in his organ music. This fine recording captures every nuance, and is a sonic joy from beginning to end. The Cybele label’s musical voyage of discovery continues to deliver notable and unexpected rewards.

Dominy Clements


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