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Bernd Alois ZIMMERMANN (1918-1970)
Concerto pour Violoncelle et orchestre en forme de 'pas de trois' (1965/66) [24:39]
Musique pour les soupers du Roi Ubu (Ballett noir) (1962-1967) [18:26]
Elke Heidenreich: Sicher auf dem Seil der Musik über die Abgründe des Daseins [30:09]
Stille und Umkehr - Orchesterskizzen (1970) [9:07]
B.A. Zimmermann O-Töne (aus: Gespräch zwischen H. Josef & B.A Zimmermann, 1968) [30:21]
Mirjam Wiesemann im Gespräch mit York Höller, (2016) [86:15]
Jan-Filip Ťupa (cello)
Sascha Reckert, Philipp Marguerre (glass harps)
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR/Bernhard Kontarsky
rec. 2012, Funkstudio SWR, Stuttgart.
CYBELE RECORDS SACD KiG008 [3 discs: 198:58]

I last came across Bernd Alois Zimmermann in on the Cybele label in their 2005 recording of his Requiem (review). This present release is volume 8 of the ‘Artist in Conversation’ series, which couples significant repertoire with interviews, in this case one from 1968 from the composer’s home, and further background information and anecdote coming from Mirjam Wiesemann’s talk with York Höller, one of Zimmermann’s students.

Bernd Alois Zimmermann isn’t the easiest of composers to appreciate at first hearing so the educational aspect of this release is an automatic commendation, though with the spoken parts in German the audio aspect of this will inevitably be limited in terms of accessibility to those not familiar with the language. The booklet notes in both German and English are however extensive and make for a fascinating read.

One of Zimmermann’s points of accessibility is his use of ‘stylistic hybrids’. These emerge not only in his use of moments of jazz-infused rhythm and improvisatory playing, but also in the associations that arise through the use of distinctive instruments, introducing folk-music flavours with mandolin and cimbalom, and with the Cello Concerto, creating an aura of cinematic mystery with the glass harp or glass harmonica – the kind that uses actual wine glasses. There is abstraction and modern expressionist writing here which takes a certain amount of extra investment from the listener, but the rewards and returns are delivered in equal measure through this kind of creative and unconventional individuality. This is also music not without its own internalised sense of humour. Dr. Rainer Nonnenmann’s notes describe the solo part as having the role of “a prima donna whose eccentricity repeatedly veers into the buffo territory of Don Quixote.” This is the kind of work that you know you’ll have to listen to more than once – not so much because of its difficulties, but because it will haunt you until you’re reasonably sure you actually heard what you did, rather than having dreamt it.

Musique pour les soupers du Roi Ubu is a seven-part suite “comprised exclusively of quotations and borrowed material.” Following Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi, a satirical play for puppets, this ballet score takes us into a banquet at the court “of this usurper, as ignorant as he is vulgar and prone to violent excess, who relishes annoying his loaded dignitaries from the worlds of art, science and finance…” Sound familiar? This is the kind of satire whose grotesque elements have become equally outlandish truth in places far too close to home for comfort. The music, a gallimaufry of quotes that range from Mussorgsky to Bach via Stravinsky, Beethoven, and numerous other proves remarkably effective in creating an atmosphere of sickly grandeur, fake nobility, ghastly lack of taste and ultimately an air of menace. There is also a recording of Elke Heidenreich’s “modern fairy tale” read by the author. These texts are intended to serve as intermezzos for the music, but are thankfully presented as separate tracks after the music. You can programme the tracks yourself to hear this version if desired, but the text is in German and not printed or translated in the booklet.
Stille und Umkehr (Stillness and Turning Back) was Zimmermann’s last purely instrumental orchestral composition, and he had died by the time of its première in 1971 as part of the Dürer year in Nuremburg. The composer was undergoing psychiatric treatment in Cologne while the work was being written, and as the notes describe, it is music of “crisis, barren, gutted, stripped, practically naked, and with a course of events that dissolves into paralysis.” The orchestration of this work is vanishingly transparent, obsessing around a single note, from whose intangible thread is festooned ornamentations of strange darkness and grim portent.
There are two spoken sections that follow. B.A. Zimmermann Speaks is introduced and given brief intermediate texts by Mirjam Wiesemann, as the composer talks about his early days, and aspects of his compositional thinking up to his opera Die Soldaten. These are almost aphoristic, rapidly spoken insights of a good-humoured nature, recorded clearly enough and further restored at the Cybele AV Studio. The conversation with York Höller provides further context about Zimmermann’s way of teaching, his character and personality, what happened after his suicide, and esoteric subjects such as the transcendental potential of art.
Superbly produced and presented, this is another jewel in the crown of Cybele’s ambitious Künstler im Gesprach series, and fully deserving of its recent award of the Grosser Jahrespreis der deutschen Schalplattenkritik 2017.

Dominy Clements



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