York HÖLLER (b. 1944)
Sphären (2001/6) [39:22]
Der ewige Tag (1998/2000, rev. 2002)a [22:38]
WDR Rundfunkchor Kölna; WDR Rundfunkorchester Köln/Semyon Bychkov
rec. Kölner Philharmonie, 14 September 2001 (Der ewige Tag) and 4 April 2008 (Sphären)
Texts and translations
NEOS 11039 [62:11]

The most substantial work here, Sphären had a rather long genesis although conceived as a whole from the start. The final movement was added in 2006 as a memorial to the composer’s recently deceased wife to whom the cycle is dedicated. The six movements are played without a break which clearly emphasises its global conception. The title of each of the first four movements – and indeed that of the fifth – suggests a poetic idea triggering the composer’s and the listener’s imagination rather than any specific programme. Here they are : Wolkengesang (“Song of the Clouds”), Windspiel (“Play of the Wind”, a capricious Scherzo in all but the name), Erdschichten (“Layers of Earth”, slow, massive, at times seismic), and Regen-Kanon (“Rain Canon”, raindrops suggested by endlessly repeated pizzicatos but building up to a climax before making its way to the initial mood). Of these the first movement is the most important because the main material from which most of the ensuing music derives is stated in the first fourteen bars. The opening of the score is reproduced in the inside cover of the jewel box, which is a very nice idea indeed. The fifth movement is the orchestral version of a work for ensemble composed to mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of the founding of Höller’s home town Leverkusen, but with a view to its later inclusion in Sphären. Its title Feuerwerk (“Fireworks”) and the music speak for themselves in a brilliant display of orchestral virtuosity. As already mentioned the sixth movement Sphärentrauer (“The Sadness of the Spheres”) was added in 2006 after the death of the composer’s wife. The music, however, retains some of the material from the first movement whereas most of it is based on a piano piece Tastengeläut from the piano cycle Monogramme (1995/2003). The sound of bells suggested in the piano piece permeates much of the music thus emphasising the elegiac character of the final movement. The excellent and detailed notes by Stefan Drees go into considerable details as to the meaning that may be attached to the word “Spheres”, be they physical, psychological or philosophical; but I firmly think that the music of this substantial work may be easily experienced as a series of neatly defined and vividly suggested “sound images” or “musical climates”. Much is left to the listener’s imagination and one cannot but admire the superb orchestral writing throughout and the structural coherence of the piece. This is one of the most impressive orchestral scores that I have heard recently.

This does not mean that Der ewige Tag (“The Eternal Day”) for chorus and orchestra is not worth considering. Though in a single movement, it falls into three sections setting texts by three different writers. The first part sets a poem by Ibn Scharaf entitled “Morning” in which the poet not only paints the dawning sun but also evokes his beloved in lyrical words. The second section roughly dealing with the main part of the day from morning to early evening is by Georg Heym who transforms day time into a mythological travelogue around the Mediterranean Sea. An orchestral interlude in which a brief allusion to Mahler’s Seventh Symphony is heard leads into the final section setting La Noche en Isla Negra by Neruda. Unfortunately enough the text of this poem could not be reprinted because of copyright’s reasons. After a first hearing I thought that the music lacked variety and that Höller’s setting did not make the best of what the words had to offer. Further hearings helped me change my mind about it. After all, the idea is that of “an eternal day” in which sunset somewhere means dawn somewhere else. This aspect seemed to justify Höller’s approach to his chosen texts. They too symbolically follow the course of the sun during a single day from East to West. Incidentally this recording has previously been released on Avie AV 0019 as a most generous “fill-up” to Mahler’s Third Symphony.

Both works written for large orchestra and live electronics display Höller’s best qualities. His vivid orchestral imagination still enlivened by subtly used electronics makes his music readily accessible and strongly expressive without compromise. Excellent performances and very fine recording make this release most welcome, the more so given that Höller’s music is still too little known. I hope that this splendid release will help redress the balance.

Hubert Culot

Two substantial scores by a most distinguished composer whose music is still too little known.