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Artefacts / Fundstücke - Piano Music from the ’50s
Christian WOLFF (b.1934)
Sonata for three pianos (first version) (1953) [3:53]
Sonata for three pianos (second version) (1953) [3:51]
Luigi DALLAPICCOLA (1904-1975)
Quaderno Musicale di Annalibera (1952)[17:09]
Chou WEN-CHUNG (b.1923)
The Willows are New (1957) [7:47]
Josef Matthias HAUER (1883-1959)
Zwölftonspiel 28. VII. 1952 (1952) [1:28]
Bernd Alois ZIMMERMANN (1918-1970)
Konfigurationen (1956) [7:56]
Paul DESSAU (1894-1979)
Drei Intermezzi (1955) [4:15]
Sylvano BUSSOTTI (b.1931)
Per Tre sul Piano, for three pianists (1959) [3:06]
Witold LUTOSLAWSKI (1913-1994)
Bucolics (1952) [5:43]
Gunnar BERG (1909-1989)
Eclatement V (1958) [2:23]
Hans Ulrich ENGELMANN (1921-2011)
Suite no.1 (1950) [6:34]
Galina USTVOLSKAYA(1919-2006)
Sonata no.4 (1953) [9:57]
Steffen Schleiermacher (piano)
rec. Konzerthaus, Marienmünster Abbey, Germany, 18-19 December 2012.
MUSIKPRODUKTION DABRINGHAUS UND GRIMM MDG 613 1821-2 [76:02]

The subtitle both on the striking CD cover and the track-list states simply 'Music from the 50th'. Would that be a fiftieth annual festival somewhere, perhaps? Or fiftieth anniversary celebrations? Actually, it is a rather silly error, a mistranslation from the German: it should in fact read '’50s', as in '1950s'. Like many who have gone before, MDG learn the hard way that there is no substitute for a native-language proof-reader.
 
Happily, there is nothing embarrassing about Steffen Schleiermacher's programme, which reads like a who's who of modernism. He begins and ends with two different versions of Christian Wolff's 'sonata' for three pianos - all recorded separately by Schleiermacher himself, and overdubbed. The listener is taken on a generous but not necessarily gemütlich whistle-stop tour of the now-old new; this from the decade where ideas of what music could be like changed dramatically - at least in some quarters.
 
Most of the works, it must be said, are primarily of curiosity value. They are too amorphous to be memorable, too short to make any big statements. Arguably, Dallapiccola's Quaderno Musicale di Annalibera and Ustvolskaya's Sonata no.4 are the most important by a distance. The former is significant because it is, youthful pieces aside, Dallapiccola's only work for piano. He was almost unique in his dedication to a lyrical kind of twelve-tone serialism, the Quaderno Musicale being a prime example. 
As for Ustvolskaya - appearing here in its German form, 'Ustwolskaja' - in A Guide to Galina Ustvolskaya's Music, broadcaster Tom Service, writing in The Guardian, refers to her music's "sheer, brutalising power: it has a terrifying and transcendent physicality; the inescapability of an asteroid firing into earth; an elementality that's both horrifying and thrilling ..." Many critics thrive on hyperbole, but even Ustvolskaya's much-invoked Sonata no.6 is nowhere near as brutal or cacophonous as some writers claim. That is unless the listener's ears are particularly offended by lots of big, deep, loud chords and a sustaining pedal almost constantly down. The Fourth Sonata is less frightening in any case, although it can hardly be said to reach out to the audience. The booklet incidentally gives the wrong composition date - it should be 1957, not 1953. 

Schleiermacher's intention was actually to offer a "wild medley of opposed composers coexisting peacefully", an idea inspired by John Cage and Alison Knowles' book Notations. This is a motley collection of score pages from 269 composers, published in 1969 - not 1967, as Schleiermacher writes. Yet his "broad spectrum [...] only from the Fifties" has no Hindemith, Weinberg, Mompou, Milhaud or any composer writing for the piano in that decade usually thought of as more or less tradition-oriented. Lutoslawski's rather pretty Bucolics does offer some tuneful listening, and Dallapiccola, Chou, Dessau and Engelmann are all relatively accessible. It is fair to say overall that Schleiermacher has gone with his own specialist preferences (see below) in putting together his recital.  

Of the remainder of the programme, a number of pieces are conspicuous by their brevity. Whilst some will doubtless consider that a blessing, even the more intrepid listener is given no more than a quick taste of what composers as diverse as Dessau, Wolff and Lutoslawski were up to at the time. That the pieces from Bussotti and Hauer derive their substance from graphics, whether purely abstract or loosely based on musical notation, is an interesting fact that can barely be touched upon in the space allocated to them.
 
Still, no matter how obscure or tricky the music, whether technically or conceptually, Schleiermacher is more than equal to it. His phenomenal discography, both as a soloist and as a chamber musician, includes many CDs dedicated to Cage, Feldman, Glass, the Second Viennese School and indeed Satie - the composer he presumably considers the first true modernist. Such is his dedication to the cause, parents note, that he has even recorded a disc of avant-garde music - Gubaidulina, Kurtág, Lachenmann and his own - 'For Children' (MDG 613 1520-2).
 
Sound quality is very good. In the German-English-French booklet, Schleiermacher's own notes are very interesting, eloquent and well translated.
 
Byzantion
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