Karlheinz STOCKHAUSEN (1928-2007)
Mantra, Work No. 32 (1970) [67:33]
Pestova/Meyer Piano Duo: Xenia Pestova and Pascal Meyers (pianos), Jan Panis (electronics)
rec. Espace Découverte, Philharmonie Luxembourg, 7-10 September 2009. DDD
NAXOS 8.572398 [67:33]

This disc will appeal to those with an open mind. If you are used to the Stockhausen of Gruppen, his work for three orchestras or Stimmung, his vocal tour de force, this will seem more organized and easier to grasp.

As Andrew Lewis states in his excellent notes in the CD booklet, Mantra is the first mature example of the composer’s “formula” technique. This technique, more structured and quasi-serialist, was to dominate his oeuvre for the rest of his life. The work is continuous, but the disc is divided into 26 tracks totaling 887 bars of music. The scoring makes interesting and novel use of percussion and electronics as well as electronically transformed piano sounds reminiscent of John Cage’s prepared piano, in addition to those of a normal piano — or in this instance piano duo. At times the work seems almost minimalist with its repetitions, but there is much more variety in Mantra than one associates with the products of Minimalism. The contrasts between the almost static and the dynamic are very telling. There is also some vocal intervention. While the work is rather long, it has enough variety and no little humor to hold one’s attention throughout its 67 minutes. The vocal “howl” in track 20 especially provides some comic relief.

Without access to a score or another recording with which to compare, I find it hard to make a judgment on the performance. However, it sounds convincing to me. The pianists have technique to burn and the recording meshes the electronics with the pianos seamlessly. However, this work really needs to be seen as well as heard, with the two pianists facing each other. The recorded sound itself leaves nothing to be desired. While I don’t know how often I will listen to Mantra, I can state that it is interesting enough that I will want to get to know it better. For a more detailed analysis of the work and its genesis, see Mark Sealey’s review on this website.

Based on the foregoing, I commend this disc to Stockhausen fans and to anyone curious about the 1970s avant-garde.

Leslie Wright

Fans of Stockhausen and the avant-garde should hear this.