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Wolfgang RIHM (b. 1952)
Rihm and the Organ
rec. 1970/2018, Pfarrkirche St.Stephan, Karlsruhe.
Reviewed in binaural SACD stereo (improvisations are in mono).

Wolfgang Rihm is best known today for a wide variety of orchestral works, operas and other genres, but in earlier years he invested a good deal of time in music for organ, including improvisation. This Artists in Conversation release celebrates 10 years of this edition in a simultaneous release of another new Historic Audio edition cat. H061805 (review) which restores 70 minutes of Rihm’s improvisations recorded by himself in mono at the same venue as Martin Schmeding’s recordings, though these have been made on what is now a considerably revised and expanded instrument. The remainder of those extant tapes is included in this release, so collectors will want both.

With regard to the organ works, “the point of departure for [Rihm’s] creativity was taking delight in playing”, and while there is an improvisatory feel to many of the organ works recorded here, there is also a strong sense of structure and narrative in most of the improvisations he was recording at the time. This huge resource of unknown organ material appears daunting, but some of it is very approachable indeed. Rihm was attracted at an early age to Bach’s chorales, and works such as the chorale prelude Herzliebster Jesu, was hast Du verbrochen? have an ecclesiastical character that is instantly recognisable. Convention and tonality can be found throughout this collection, with pieces like the Toccata for small organ and the Kleines Praeludium in cis-Moll spread around like little oases of calm amidst the more exploratory works elsewhere.

Rihm is a remarkably prolific composer, and there are too many works here to deal with individually. The first cycle in the programme is the five-movement Pietà, which is less overtly thematic in conception, but confronts us with “powerful gestures that interconnect.” The result is an ‘instant avant-garde’ language, but one which pushes the organ in strikingly impressive directions. The spirit of Messiaen can be detected here, though as much in technique as in idiom. Sinfoniæ 1 (Missa) in six movements and an Epilog is another significant work, in which “the strong connectivity of the sections through their structure and the overall design form a symphonic structure… most comparable to old French organ masses and late-Romantic organ symphonies.” In structure yes, though don’t expect to hear much in the way of Couperin or Widor here. There is some serious digging into the avant-garde toolbox going on here and it takes a few listens to find your feet, but as with all of the music here, the more you delve the greater the rewards. Disc 1 ends with the remarkable Clamatio for Organ and Supplemental Sounds, that theatrically combines instruments and voices that ‘depict in abstract and exaggerated terms various scenes from the everyday life of an organist.’

Parusie is considered by Rihm as ‘the real beginning of his organ output’; “There I knew how to go about composing.” The work has religious overtones, having at its core “an attempt… to create the image of an apparition… an eschatological second-coming” evoked in impactful clusters that exist out of a meditative backdrop, flying through the air and making rude gestures at us. Another impressive work is 5 Betrachtungen über die Pietà, which mixes up and contrasts tonality with gestural abstraction to grand effect. I love the following piece, one of the most recent from 1980, Bann, Nachtschwärmerei (Spell, Nocturnal Revelry) for its soft mystery, and the final work on disc two, Siebengestalt (The Shape of Seven) for organ and Tam-Tam, the rich sound of the gong absorbing and reflecting the tones of the organ and giving the sound added dimension and impact in the work’s outer sections, the centrepiece being another improvisatory grand cadenza. Of the remaining works on disc three, the 3 Orgelstücke are another eruption of strikingly precocious inventiveness, this time with a more strict sounding dodecaphony. The final Toccata, Fuge c-Moll und Postludium places the Fuge, a final exam piece from 1972 amidst two outer parts that draw on its Bach-like complexities and turn it into virtuoso flourishes.

The good-humoured discussion between Wolfgang Rihm and Mirjam Wiesemann takes place in the composer’s house in Karlsruhe. The conversation is of course in German, but is of a kind that makes you want to learn the language. Rihm certainly seems like the kind of person you would like to know better. The well documented booklet also covers a lot of ground in both German and English. Rihm talks with first-hand experience of colleagues such as Stockhausen, and is very open about his compositional processes and standpoints.

As previously mentioned, the improvisations here supplement Cybele’s single-disc release, giving us the remainder of mono tapes that have lain unheard at the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel. These give valuable insights into the technical and creative origins of many of the published organ works, and while there are limitations to the old tapes the remastering sounds surprisingly good. Arguably the most interesting of these is the spectacular Toccata über B-A-C-H, which is an instrument and mind-stretching exercise in controlled intensity. There is a heavily Reger-influenced chromaticism to some of the others which won’t be to everyone’s taste, but the final Toccata is a wild and rough-cut gem of filigree transparency that builds to a fittingly ecstatic close.

Wolfgang Rihm is a unique and valuable figure in the musical world of the last century and this, and these organ works provide many insights into the foundations of his remarkable later oeuvre. Martin Schmeding’s performances are of the highest quality, as is that of the recordings – typically excellent for this label, which always excels when it comes to organ sound. I’ve reviewed these in binaural SACD stereo with headphones, but you can also revel in 5.0 surround and normal stereo.

Dominy Clements

Praeludium für Orgel (1966) [1:19]
Choralvorspiel 'Herzliebster Jesu, was hast Du verbrochen?' (1967) [2:14]
Phantasie für Orgel in e-Moll (1966) [4:10]
PIETÀ. 5 Orgelstücke (1969) [7:55]
Toccata für kleine Orgel oder Positiv (1966) [1:45]
Herr, send herab uns deinen Sohn (1966) [1:36]
Fantasie für Orgel (1967) [3:18]
Aria variata I für Orgel (1968) [3:39]
3 Fantasien (1967) [13:42]
2 Orgel-Skizzen (1967) [3:34]
Sinfoniae I (Missa, April 1971) [17:01]
Praeludium (Fantasie) (1966) [4:26]
Clamatio für Orgel und Beiklänge (1971-1972)* [13:08]

Parusie op. 5 für große Orgel (1970) [7:21]
Choral (1966) [1:32]
Kleines Praeludium in cis-Moll (1966) [1:33]
Meditationen: Orgelstück I. Meditation (1966) [1:43]
Kleines Choralvorspiel: 'Bei stiller Nacht zur ersten Wacht' (1966) [0:44]
Sonett für die Passionszeit (1966) [0:56]
Choralvorspiel 'Erschienen ist der herrlich Tag' (1971) [0:50]
Fantasie (1968) [10:55]
5 Betrachtungen über die Pietà für Orgel (1968) [7:16]
Bann, Nachtschwärmerei für Orgel (1980) [14:36]
Fantasie in f für Orgel (1967) [3:18]
Liturgisches Fragment. Variationen für Orgel (1969) [5:22]
Contemplatio per organo (1967) [4:11]
Siebengestalt für Orgel und Tam-Tam (1974) [15:43]

Phantasie für Orgel (1967) [2:32]
Kyrie und Gloria (1967) [7:20]
Intonation: 'O, Jesu, all mein Leben...' (1966) [0:41]
3 Orgelstücke (1969) [5:11]
Toccata, Fuge c-Moll und Postludium (1972/2012) [11:11]
Martin Schmeding (organ)
*Clamatio: Andrea Krejci (Violine), Akari Yamada (Posaune), Carlotta Schmeding (Violoncello), Stefan Rapp (Schlagzeug), Amalie Schmeding (Blockflöte),
Marie Schmeding (Blockflöte)
Mitglieder des Stephanus-Consort Karlsruhe, Dirigent: Patrick Fritz-Benzing
(Martina Erndwein, Ina Gessler, Dieter Klink, Thomas Leiber, Teresa Ostertag, Martin Peters, Regine Schröder, Ursula Stabenow und Regine Tobias)
Rec. February and November 2018, Pfarrkirche St.Stephan, Karlsruhe.

SACD 3-4
Mirjam Wiesemann in conversation with Wolfgang Rihm [82:14]

Wolfgang Rihm improvises at the organ (ca. 1970)
Improvisation I (ohne Titel) [6:35]
Fantasie über ein Thema aus Liszts Faust-Sinfonie [7:41]
Toccata über B-A-C-H [6:07]
Vision nach Ezechiel [14:51]
Toccata [8:40]



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