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Birke J. BERTELSMEIER (b. 1981)
GIROMANiACO (2013/2014) [13:18]
hineidunke (2012) [6:35]
Quartettstück (2008) [11:44]
folklich (2012) [8:27]
WhirliGigue (2012) [11:03]
Amorette I und II (2014/2015) [16:19]
Zimzum (2015) [7:54]
Ensemble Modern/Jonathan Stockhammer (GIROMANiCO, folklich)
Armida Quartett (Quartettstück)
Ivanna Ternay (flute) (WhirliGigue)
Birke J. Bertelsmeier (piano) (hineidunke, Amoretten)
Lukas Maria Kuen, Julian Riem, Paul Rivinius (pianos) (Amoretten)
Bamberger Symphoniker/Christoph Eschenbach (Zimzum)
rec. 21 June 2008, Chapelle Catholique St. Croix, Blonay, Switzerland (GIROMANiACO and Quartettstück); 28 April 2012, Alte Pädagogische Hochschule Heidelberg (hineidunke); 8-9 April 2015, Performance Studios, Frankfurt am Main (folklich); 23 October 2012, Deutsche Botschaft, Peking, China (WhirliGigue); 4 February 2015, Bayerische Akademie der Schönen Künste, Munich (Amoretten) and 31 May and 2 June 2015, Herkulessaal der Residenz, Munich (Zimzum).
COL LEGNO WWE1CD40414 [75:20]

Birke Jasmin Bertelsmeier has been forging a fine career over recent years but this is her first major record release. This has been funded by the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation, which is releasing a series that will “unfold a broad panorama of serious contemporary music, discovering and documenting current developments.”

Written by Markus Böggemann, the booklet notes for this nicely printed and illustrated release sum up Bertelsmeier’s music as being “about characterisation, and about characters, that one must speak. The pleasure that this composer takes in inventing memorable musical figures is palpable in every one of her works, no less that her love for double entendre which is already evident in her choice of titles.” As with all new music you have to give it time, to assimilate and digest and build connections to sounds that are initially likely to be disorientating.

GIROMANiACO has the theme of “something obsessively circling” both in its title and in the nature of the music, which thrives on slow ostinati or repetitions that are in a state of constant change, and elaborated upon. These are mechanical to start with, but growing in intensity with layers of sustained notes, rough-hewn solos and a general feel of anarchic energy and rather dark and deranged delight. These contradictions also gravitate towards a single moment of genuine beauty. It's like a pearl found at the bottom of a toolbox filled with things prickly and sharp, but by no means nice and shiny, even as the music ends on notes that rise into shrill heights.

For five musicians, hineidunke is written for string quartet with a player of tuned glass goblets: the kind of sound familiar from glass harmonica music from the 18th century. The sound of sustained string and glass notes creates an eerie effect, with the addition of strings that have been de-tuned or suppressed through the use of a practice mute. There are more interactions going on here than you might expect. This rarefied atmosphere is dispersed by Quartettstück, in which the renowned Arditti Quartet maintains high energy and supreme control over detailed complexities for the entire duration of this demanding piece.

With modern string quartets of this kind there is an almost automatic mental connection to Bartók as a reference. There are indeed some folk-like techniques and sonorities encountered here. This segues nicely to folklich, which is another wildly driven musical interaction between strong musical personalities. Very occasional ‘naïve’ folk-themes emerge from time to time, but this piece is a joyous conflagration of remarkable performance and virtuoso composition. From this infectious little touches leap out to provide fabulous entertainment. Brass players throwing in gauche vibrato, mis-tunings, errant percussion and animalistic outbursts all integrate in a work which has all kinds of serious content at the same time.

WhirliGigue was written as a test-piece for an instrumental competition. The flautist is stretched from outer sections of calm expressiveness in which quarter-tones are explored, through the virtuoso agility you would expect and through hope for this instrument. Extended techniques are used sparingly and for those of you less keen on plops and multiphonic howling this is very much ‘real’ music that interestingly works a great deal in the lower sonorities of the instrument.

Amorette I and II for two pianos, eight hands, contrast from sustained and open-sounding beauty in the first to drive and energy in the second. Subtle working around the strings to create bell-like effects enhances the conventionally played notes in Amorette I, the sparing landscape of which is a thing of striking beauty. The spirit of Bartók returns to kick off Amorette II, and fans of Ligeti will also appreciate the rhythmic asymmetries and powerful note-shower of this piece.

Ligeti is invoked once again in the orchestral piece Zimzum, the opening of which lays out a soft field of slowly shifting sounds. The harmonies soon reveal themselves to be non-Ligeti however, and there is a romantic streak that emerges that we haven’t heard before from this programme. The title Zimzum comes from Jewish mysticism, a reference to “the self-restriction of God, undertaken to make room for the world in the course of its creation.” Mystical stillness and gradual transformation creates a potent sense of atmosphere, while there is also a feeling of inevitability in the work’s development that goes well beyond amorphous noodling or exploring of sonority for the sake of sonority. This extended development bursts out into a final minute of high drama in which the spirit of creation is held, struggling at the cliff-edge of infinity and immolation.

This is indeed a fine programme of some remarkable works, and is the perfect calling-card for Birke Bertelsmeier. I’m sure we will be hearing more from her in the future. This is a very well-produced compilation of music performed with a palpable sense of commitment, and all recorded to very high and consistent standards even though the sources are disparate.

Dominy Clements



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