Mauricio KAGEL (1931-2008)
Works for flute
Das Konzert for flute and orchestra (2001-2)1 [25.27]
Phantasiestück (1987): versions for flute and piano2 and flute and chamber ensemble3 [17.34; 17.58]
Pan for piccolo and string quartet (1985)4 [4.45]
Michael Faust (flute123; piccolo4); Paulo Alvares (piano)24;
Ensemble Contrasts34/Robert HP Platz3; Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä/Patrick Gallois1
rec. Suolahti Hall, Jyväskylä, 3-7 May 20101; Beethoven-Haus, Bonn, 17 November 2010234
NAXOS 8.572635 [65.44]
Back in the 1960s I used to think of Kagel as an arch avant-garde-ist. Listening to these later works I’m not sure how I reached that conclusion. More to the point it is fascinating to see how he changed and developed towards the end of his life. The earliest work recorded here (Pan) was composed when he was in his mid-50s.
I began listening to the CD with Pan. It’s a sort of eccentric Scherzo, a fantasy with its changing textures and tempi which lasts less than five minutes. I’ve never, from my own experiences, found the piccolo to work in a chamber music context. Here it is an absolute delight and makes me realize how important it is to have a full-time piccolo player playing for you. It is I think a matter of embouchure control and an ability to balance the sound that counts. Both are achieved supremely here by Michael Faust.
Kagel was born in Argentina and came to Cologne at the height of the Stockhausen era. He experimented with improvisation and chance elements in his work right up to the 1980s. There was a time when Naxos would not have dreamt of recording his music. The fact that this is the second disc devoted to him is extraordinary. The first was of his mini dramas Szenario and Liturgien (Naxos 8.570179) which I’ve not heard.
Anyway, moving on, I then tackled Das Konzert. It’s a flute concerto in one movement. I found this to be a terrific and fantastic piece, multi-layered and one in which it can be felt that one walks in on the music after it has started. Scored for strings, harp and percussion it is a fount of imaginatively coruscating sounds. These are never-ending in fecundity of energy and emotional turbulence and never displeasing.
I was most impressed by Richard Whitehouse’s notes and his detailed and not overly technical description of what to listen out for. Flutter tonguings of various strengths combine with various breathy noises and percussion from xylophone, marimba and tam-tam to create a unique sound-world. It is always attention-seeking, full of fantasy yet never meandering.
Kagel’s approach to flute writing is to use all of the colours available - all you can possibly imagine. I mentioned the word Fantasy above. Kagel had a Schumann obsession and Schumann wrote a Fantasy Op. 73 and another Op. 88 and there is the Piano Fantasie Op. 17. Kagel’s Phantasiestück exists in two versions. In the one with piano, a true dialogue is opened up between the two sound-worlds. The flute uses quarter-tones and what Whitehouse brilliantly describes as “virtual breathing”. There is another passage in which the player sings down the flute in unison with what is played by the keys. The pianist also taps, early on in the piece, on the woodwork. All of these otherworldly sounds help to create a ‘fantasy’ ecosphere unique and like no other.
The other version is for flute, piano and ensemble and was made at the same time. Obviously there is a broader spectrum of colours. The music’s wit and atmosphere are brought out even more without any change of structure. There is also more counterpoint or as Richard Whitehouse observes there “there is more textural and timbral variety … more tonal allure”. The fact is that the flute is more a member of the ensemble now. It does not take the sort of prime soloist role we are accustomed to hearing in a sonata.
Naxos has however tripped up again in adopting a practice that is a bit of a bête noir with me. The CD booklet has photos, some in colour, of all of the performers - all fifty-one of them in fact - but not one of the composer. This makes me furious and is an approach that needs to be re-assessed by the company.
The recordings are first class and without exception the performances superb and completely committed. The star however is the brilliant Michael Faust.
  Gary Higginson
The recordings are first class and without exception the performances superb and completely committed.