Luciano BERIO (1925-2003)
Lied (1983) [5:05]
Heinz HOLLIGER (b.1939)
Contrechant (sur le Nom de Baudelaire) (2007) [12:56]
Rechant (2008) [6:57]
Salvatore SCIARRINO (b.1947)
Let Me Die Before I Wake (1982) [9:57]
Elliott CARTER (b.1908)
Gra (1993) [4:53]
Péter EÖTVÖS (b.1944)
Derwischtanz (1993/2001) [5:38]
Gergely VAJDA (b.1973)
Lightshadow-trembling (1993) [5:55]
Reto Bieri (clarinet)
rec. Propstei St Gerold, Vorarlberg, Austria, September 2010. DDD
ECM NEW SERIES 2209 [51:21] 

ECM's 'New Series' is now well over a quarter of a century old, and continues to publish musically good and not so good CDs. This, Swiss clarinettist Reto Bieri's debut for the label, is definitely one of the good ones. It is not easy listening, by any means - most of these pieces are short, slow, airy and fairly soft. Apart from brief snippets in Berio's opening Lied, there are no real melodies - readers can ignore Paul Griffiths' comment in his notes that these pieces constitute "song: song without words … song in which sound alone sings." On the other hand, there is nothing that is not essentially musical - certainly no random screeching and squawking.
Instead this is an intelligent programme of exploration of the clarinet's potentialities by some of the big names in modernism. Vajda's work aside, for the listener Bieri's recital is likely to prove an ascetic or rarefied experience, and is probably best experienced through headphones in subdued lighting! Bieri extracts some phenomenal sounds from his instrument, employing every technique and exhibiting outstanding control to elicit the lowest, highest, softest, loudest or simply oddest sounds known to clarinet. He is undaunted by the virtuosic heights towering around every corner in these works - and there is even the kitchen sink in Holliger's Contrechant - and shows himself capable of the most finely-shaded nuances and the most silvery of tones.
Highlights are Holliger's raving Contrechant, Sciarrino's Let Me Die Before I Wake, morbidly titled but musically from the fifth dimension, Carter's frolicsome-cum-frantic Gra - a piece from his middle period, written when he was still only 85 - and Vajda's Lightshadow-trembling, which, as the most audience-friendly item in Bieri's recital, would make a fine encore piece for any clarinettist.
Sound quality is excellent. The English-German booklet is as sober as the music, with intelligent, if sometimes artsy-sounding notes by modern music authority Paul Griffiths. A quality CD in every regard except length - full price includes nearly half an hour of empty space - but likely to appeal only to those with adventurous spirits or a special interest in the clarinet.
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Likely to appeal only to those with adventurous spirits or a special interest in the clarinet.