Mauricio KAGEL (1931-2008)
Das Konzert (2001)1 [25.27]
Phantasiestück (1987): versions for flute and piano2 and flute and chamber ensemble3 [17.34; 17.58]
Pan (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 2010 (Konzert); Beethoven-Haus, Bonn, 17 November 2010
NAXOS 8.572635 [65.44] 

Kagel was always one of the most approachable of the ‘Darmstadt School’ of composers. His lively sense of the ridiculous saved him from over-reaching himself and becoming a bore. He has been compared to a musical equivalent of the so-called ‘Theatre of the Absurd’, a figure more reminiscent of the exuberance of Ionesco and Dali than the nihilism of Beckett.
This CD assembles his complete music for flute, including two versions - the same music with different accompaniment - of the Phantasiestück. None of the works are otherwise currently available on disc, so the issue is by definition hors concours. Michael Faust is a brilliant player who is fazed by none of the music’s demands - bent notes, flutter-tongue, and so on - either when playing the flute or its baby brother.
Das Konzert, a concerto for flute and orchestra, shows the composer shortly before the end of his life turning back to a more serious style. Richard Whitehouse’s informative booklet-note remarks upon the use of “more traditional harmonic and tonal elements”. These are indeed evident in the music, but the element of sheer fun has largely disappeared. This is really a rather serious work. There is plenty of variety in the textures, all of them effortlessly handled by Faust and the accomplished orchestra: harp, strings and percussion. Set alongside this an elegiac feeling not untinged with regret and nostalgia.
The Phantasiestück is so entitled as a homage to Schumann, but it is probably fair to say that the latter would not recognise the influence. There are tonal inflections here too, but also various avant-garde techniques such as tapping on the body of the piano and unpitched rhythmic breathing through the flute. Kagel’s sense of humour is definitely present here. The alternative version with an accompaniment of violin, viola, cello, clarinet, bass clarinet and piano has more variety of colour. The element of fun is more diffuse. The differences between the two versions are startling. The piece sounds quite transformed in its chamber guise. The playing of the chamber ensemble is again excellent.
The piece for piccolo, Pan, is a totally unserious trifle based on Papageno’s little panpipe runs in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. It comes here as an interlude between the two versions of the Phantasiestück and forms a delightful contrast to them. 

If you appreciate the music of Kagel, this CD will definitely be one for you. If you are simply curious about the work of one of the more unorthodox of modernist composers, you will certainly find plenty to enjoy. Performances and recordings are simply superb, and Kagel’s music is worth exploration.  

Paul Corfield Godfrey 

see also review by Gary Higginson