Wien Modern III
Luigi DALLAPICCOLA (1904 - 1975) Piccola musica notturna (1954) [6:35]
Iannis XENAKIS (1922-2001) Keqrops for piano and orchestra (1986) [16:48]
Paolo PEREZZANI (b 1955) Primavera dell’anima (1990) [11:00]
Hans Werner HENZE (b 1926) Boulevard Solitude - Sinfonische Intermezzi (4) (1965) [13:57]; Manadenjagd (1965) [3:29]
Roger Woodward (piano)
Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester/Claudio Abbado
rec. live, Wien Konzerthaus, 1992. DDD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 447 115-2 [52:45]

Although first released in July 1997, after a delay of five years, this typically luxurious DG modern anthology recorded live in front of an audience has missed our attention until now.

Dallapiccola provides the oldest piece here. A Scherchen commission, based on a warmly idyllic poem (Summer Night) by Antonio Machado, Piccola musica notturna is almost Delian with only a few desultory vituperative outbursts to disturb the parallel. It reminded me of Henze in his warmest Mediterranean mode.

The Xenakis is the only piece here in which Roger Woodward appears. Keqrops is an antidote to all that cannabis-mist and lotus-eating in the Dallapiccola. It buzzes and shrieks with a ragingly eruptive orchestra which is in turn pummelled by fusillades from the piano. The derivation traces back to Stravinsky but one has to trek back rather a long way – still one is clearly encountering a composer who has taken on an impress from Le Sacre. It feels a bigger and more ferally barbaric piece than its 16:48 might suggest. It ends in repose. Keqrops refers to the Greek hero who entered into mystic communion with Athene and was in turn worshipped in serpent form. It is the third of Xenakis’s works for piano and orchestra: Synaphai (1969) and Erykhton (1974). Keqrops was written for the redoubtable Woodward who premiered the work with Mehta in New York in 1986. Woodward has held fidelity with this aspect of the avant-garde where others have fallen away as fashion has broadened its fickle affections. He plays more Xenakis at the Flaneries Festival in Reims in July 2011: Paille in the Wind (with Rohan de Saram) and Keqrops (with Orchestre National de Lille and Arturo Tamayo, a veteran of the Timpani Xenakis cycle) (13 July), Mists (16 July) and Akea (Piano Quintet) (18 July) with the Jack Quartet of New York.

Perezzani’s Primavera dell’anima speaks of a composer with a fine and fragile yet richly populated style. The pulse is very fast but the textures are fine and diaphanous, violent yet intricate rather than seismically splenetic in the manner of Xenakis. This was the winning entry in the Vienna International Composition Competition (1992). It would be good to hear more from Perezzani.

We end with two stage-derived works by Henze. The four movement Sinfonische Intermezzi are drawn from his opera Boulevard Solitude - a different slant on the Manon Lescaut story. The intermezzi can be likened to the Grimes Interludes. The world inhabited is Bergian, far from cool, shimmering yet with outbursts and emotionally grim. Manadenjagd (Hunt of the Maenads) is from The Bassarids (1965) – a one-act opera to words by W H Auden and Chester Kallman around The Bacchae of Euripides. It has a breathlessly surging flinty edge – a dash through thorny thickets, whipping barbed tendrils raising welts and slashes. The metallic unforgiving quality of the orchestration can be compared with that of Othmar Schoeck’s opera Penthesilea.

There’s fascination to be found in these masterful scores.

Rob Barnett

There’s fascination to be found in these masterful scores.