Gerhard STÄBLER (b.1949)
Zeichen (2008) - Three Works for small string orchestra:
Gefährliche Ränder (2008) [5:51]
Grauzone(n) (2008) [5:07]
Auf Messers Schneide (2008) [10:11]
Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra/Vit Micka
rec. Olomouc, Czech Republic, November-December 2009. DDD

Two things immediately noticeable about this release are the very short playing time and the lack of liner-notes. As far as the timing goes, this CD is currently available on the internet generally somewhere in the mid-price range. This makes it considerably less than a bargain. As for the liner-notes, this is a Navona disc, and therefore an "enhanced CD", which means it needs to go into a computer in order for the listener to access "exclusive interactive multimedia content" - basic information, as it is more commonly known. According to the electronic booklet found there, German composer Gerhard Stäbler likes to stimulate audiences' other senses not only with lighting, but with smells - now that really would be "exclusive interactive multimedia content"! But the CD-ROM does provide legible full scores of each of the three works, as well as the notes. For the trendy listener there is also futuristic computer desktop wallpaper and a choice of Zeichen ringtones!

Stäbler often groups his works under a general title or theme - Zeichen ('Sign'/'Signal' or 'Signs'/'Signals') is the title of three works for 15 or more strings, Gefährliche Ränder ('Dangerous Edges'), Grauzone(n) ('Greyzone(s)') and Auf Messers Schneide ('On a Knife-Edge'). Zeichen was written for the annual 'Duisburg Accents' culture festival in 2009. The three sections/works can be performed together or separately. Their scoring is identical.

This is challenging music, without doubt, but not insuperably so. It may sound like orchestral tuning-up to unaccustomed ears, but it certainly cannot be said to come from the Crash Bang Wallop School of composition. In fact much of it consists of tutti tremolos and glissandi. In all three works the music is basically static and ambiguous; movement comes from changes in dynamics, articulation and pitch. Strings only were chosen by Stäbler to create deliberately monochrome soundscapes. Only in Auf Messers Schneide are there briefly small parts for soloists.

Zeichen begins with, and later repeats, sforzando chords that will remind surely everyone of Bernard Herrmann's music for the famous shower murder scene in Hitchcock's film Psycho. It ends with a long wheezing coda, sounding like a squeezebox on its last legs.

The Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra under Vit Micka are quite at home in this avant-garde repertoire, and perform competently, even if they often fail to follow Stäbler's extreme and rapid changes in dynamics - the orchestra seems to make little or no attempt to differentiate between ppppp or fffff on the one hand and pp or ff on the other. In the opening bars of Grauzone(n)They completely ignore the pp falling to ppp called for.

Sound quality is very good, although the final silence at the end of Auf Messers Schneide is unnecessarily cut short. For those in search of an aural challenge, this release is worth contemplating - but for only twenty minutes of music it is difficult to consider this anything but overpriced.


For those in search of an aural challenge, this release is worth contemplating.