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Walter ZIMMERMANN (b. 1949)
Voces Abandonades [38.28]
Aimide [16.04]
Blaupause [4.42]
Blueprint [5.29]
The Missing Nail at the River for piano and toy piano [5.35]
Romanska Bâgar [4.29]
Nicolas Hodges (piano)
rec. WDR Koln
WERGO WER7356-2 [76.50]

Walter Zimmermann is of that generation which grew up as part of the Cologne School of the early 70’s one of his teachers being Mauricio Kagel. His music seemed then to be incredibly avant-garde and really it still is. He is furrowing his own path as this CD illustrates but John Cage and even Morton Feldman seem to be looking over his shoulder.

Nicolas Hodges has made it his mission to perform some of the most technically challenging and musically uncompromising piano works of our time. He has been associated with Elliot Carter whose ‘Dialogues’ for piano and chamber orchestra was written especially for Hodges in 2003. So you can be sure that the performer and composer will be of one mind when you come to take on board this extraordinary music by Zimmermann.

The disc consists of works written between 2001 and 2006 and includes one major work, one medium sized one and three shorter ones proving that Zimmermann can work on any scale but the shorter pieces seem to erupt out of their frame. Even so his basic language is in a way, quite simple harmonically but spiced up with complex rhythmic polyphonies.

I started listening to this disc by taking on Blaupause and Blueprint they are, we are told practically the same music but Blueprint is a negative image of Blaupause in that where there are rests in one there are now pitches and vice versa. The dynamics can suddenly erupt creating a engrossing and gripping sound world.

Charles Ives was the inspiration behind The Missing Nail at the River. The composer visited his birthplace and whilst there Zimmermann, who may have been thinking of Ives’ song ‘At the River’ or possibly just because the house is near a river suddenly tripped against a nail, hence the strange title of this piano work. Hodges has to move deftly and speedily between the piano and a toy piano, which seems to comment on the larger instrument at cadential points. Ives I think would have been captivated.

Aimide consists of three sections. ‘Cura’ was composed as a diary immediately following the destruction of the world trade centre. It is based on the song “We will overcome” the famous 60’s protest song. As in all of his music the effect is gentle, full of silences, pointillistic even. He then adds a ‘Fuga’ written in November 2001. It has up to four voices but because of the monodic nature of his language it seems to be just one singing line. The following ‘Svara’ is a Sanskrit word which can be interpreted as ‘song’ and here we have a series of melodic fragments taken from Vedic chants and other melodies. The creative background to this work is highly complex and multi-layered but clearly adumbrated by the excellent and helpful booklet writer Walter-Wolfgang Sparrer.

Romanska Bâgar means Romanesque arches and the composer shapes his music in a semi-circular format he also basis the inspiration on a poem, translated in the booklet, by Tomas Tranströmer beginning ‘Within the great Romanesque Church’. Here the melodic lines and sparse harmony waft a mysterious darkened atmosphere quite in keeping with the concept. It is just for the left hand and makes, consequently, enormous demands on the performer.

In the longest work Voces abandonados Zimmermann divides up its vast structure into two movements. It is based upon a series of 514 aphorisms which were a product of a series of what must have been many extraordinary conversations between their author, Antonio Porcha and his friends who persuaded him to publish them. Their lack of initial success meant that the unsold copies were freely distributed across the world including in Argentina where the poet went to live after leaving Italy in 1900. He lived on until 1968 but some of these tiny sayings took on political implications particularly during the dictatorship of 1972-4.

Zimmermann has divided them up into two sets 1-335, 336-514 and composed them, at the rate probably of one or two per day over a period of 12 months in c.2005. The style, if I need to describe it, could again be called pointillistic , the fragments of ideas are often tiny, reflecting the tiny size of the original quotation. Even so repeated ideas can be discerned across this austere landscape. Of the aphorisms quoted the one which had the most impact and is, even now, still very thought provoking is “Love that is not entirely painful is not entirely love”.

Needless to say Nicolas Hodges seems to communicate the music as it should be experienced with an intellectually passionate commitment. I have to say that this CD is probably one for the niche market but in the final analyses it can be heard as being highly individual and remarkably mesmeric.

Gary Higginson



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