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Wolfgang RIHM (b. 1952)
Das Gehege, a nocturnal scene for soprano and orchestra (2004/05) [35:54]
Jean-Pascal BEINTUS (b. 1966)
Le Petit Prince, concert suite for violin, harp and chamber orchestra (2006) [17.33]
Rayanne Dupuis (soprano) (Das Gehege)
Eva-Christina Schönweiss (violin); Kirsten Ecke (harp) (Le Petit Prince)
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Kent Nagano
rec. 2011, Großer Sendesaal, Haus des Rundfunks, RBB, Berlin
CAPRICCIO C5337 [53.43]

It makes a refreshing change to have here on disc two successful contemporary composers, each with a work that inhabits starkly different sound worlds.

Wolfgang Rihm is one of today’s pre-eminent composers and his reputation is going from strength to strength. The winner of several prestigious awards, Rihm continues to be the recipient of numerous commissions. Written in 2004/05, Rihm’s Das Gehege (The Aviary/Cage) for soprano and orchestra is entitled ‘a nocturnal scene’ - although ‘a nightmare scene’ might be a more accurate description. The work, essentially a one act opera, came about when Kent Nagano, the new general music director of Bayerische Staatsoper required a contemporary theatrical piece to precede a new staging of Richard Strauss’ Salome and turned to Rihm for the commission. Having seen Luc Bondy’s 1992 Berlin production of Schlußchor (Final Chorus) by Botho Strauß, Rihm was captivated by the final scene and it was this that inspired him to write this psychological melodrama. The multifaceted text by Strauß about German Reunification concerns a woman, Anita, who on the night the Berlin Wall fell, enters a zoo and encounters a caged eagle; the symbol of a united Germany. After sexually fantasising about the eagle, Anita eventually kills it. In October 2006 Nagano gave the premiere at the Bayerische Staatsoper, staged by William Friedkin at Munich. When in 2014 at the Bayerische Staatsoper I saw Friedkin’s staging of Salome, unfortunately Das Gehege was no longer on the programme. Das Gehege has also been given in concert performances which benefit greatly from accompanying video projections.

Often compared to Schonberg’s Erwartung, a one-act monodrama for soprano and large orchestra, Das Gehege, despite inhabiting similar expressionist territory, is the more accessible work. I sense that dramatically Berg’s Lulu was a key stimulus, the opulent beauty of both scores contrasting starkly with the debauched action, and additionally the sound world of Lulu is the most audible influence. Reading the text concerning power and control, it’s not difficult to relate this to one country dominating another, reflecting the fall of the Berlin Wall and the eventual reunification of a divided Germany. In this recording, Kent Nagano presides over a tight, intensely dramatic performance which strikingly captures the emotional elements of imprisonment, erotic fantasy and violent killing. Nagano and the DSO Berlin generate a remarkable degree of emotional tension and high drama, producing loud, menacing climaxes aided by the magnificently effective percussion section. Hearing soprano Rayanne Dupuis’ assured and penetrating performance it’s no surprise that she has previously sung Anita, notably when Das Gehege was given at Wolfgang Rihm Total Immersion Day at Barbican, London in 2009. She has the dark low register, the power and the explosive dramatic expression required to excel in that challenging role.

Providing a stark contrast to Rihm’s Das Gehege is Jean-Pascal Beintus’ Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) a concert suite for violin, harp and chamber orchestra. The winner of a 2004 Grammy award for Wolf Tracks, Beintus in 2006 based his suite on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s allegorical novella Le Petit Prince (1943) with watercolour illustrations; a book of phenomenal international success. The tale concerns the fanciful adventures of a pilot whose plane has crash-landed in the desert. Although it superficially appears to be a children’s book with timeless appeal, older readers can recognise the deeper philosophical element to the writing. Commissioned at Nagano’s behest specifically for DSO Berlin family concerts, in this is lightly-scored work Beintus paints ten delightful musical pictures of whimsical scenes from the novella. Featuring two solo instruments, the violin and harp, which are beautifully played by Eva-Christina Schönweiss and Kirsten Ecke respectively, the world class DSO Berlin responds with enchanting playing and palpable enjoyment.

The sound quality is first class: satisfyingly clear and well balanced. For each work, there is an essay in the original German and an English translation. Disappointingly for an album jointly aimed at the English market, only the German text of Das Gehege provided in the booklet. It makes a huge difference being able to follow the text and undoubtably the lack of an English translation will be a real drawback for many potential buyers. At only fifty-four minutes the playing time is meagre by today’s standards. I’ve seen concert performances of Das Gehege on YouTube but don’t know of any other recordings of these works, so I’m guessing that they are appearing here for the first time on CD.

Outstandingly played under Kent Nagano, this coupling of two contemporary, yet widely dissimilar, works is worthy of attention - especially Rihm’s remarkable Das Gehege.

Michael Cookson


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