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Sarah Wegener (soprano)
Ernesto Molinari (bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet)
Philippe Jaccottet (recitation)
rec. 2018, Radiostudio DRS Zürich
ECM RECORDS 2665 [74:34]

This release marks Heinz Holliger’s 80th birthday, and comes in a nice cardboard sleeve with an extra booklet that lists the numerous ECM recordings that have appeared over many years with his contributions as a performer and composer. Holliger is certainly one of the central figures in contemporary music, and with this recording he has found a kindred spirit in György Kurtág, who has declared that “we compose the same way.” Zwiegespräche as a title indeed stands for the meeting of two spirits.

The two certainly share a love of miniature forms, with few of these works going above three minutes in duration, and with Holliger as the main performer the oboe inevitably has the main emphasis. The oboe as a solo instrument is at its most natural in lyrical, often somewhat melancholy moods, and this is certainly the case with the first two works on the programme, and with Berceuse pour M. written for the larger cor anglais there is a family feel to this opening – sister and brother perhaps. …für Heinz… for piano left hand is also reflective, though more austere than the previous works. This introduces an angularity of melody that is taken up in Holliger’s Die Ros’ (Angelus Silesius) which, while very much inhabiting an atonal world, is nevertheless deeply expressive, having a warmer, fin de sičcle feel when compare to the more astringent setting by Kurtág that follows.

This interweaving of these two composer’s works makes for fascinating listening, their feel for counterpoint and a kind of intellectual drama contrasting with the kind of subtlety you need to take time to absorb, but once you’ve tuned-in is related but distinctive, like the differences between Mozart and Haydn – and no, I’m not going to say which might be which. Literature is another element in this programme. Holliger’s Airs for oboe and cor anglais was inspired by seven texts by the Swiss poet Philippe Jaccottet, who reads his own words on this recording, his low tones creating another element of atmosphere and authenticity.

Contrast of timbre and content comes with Kurtág’s Schatten, a low and secretive murmuring that is followed by the unusual duet of cor anglais and contrabass clarinet in Rozsnyai Ilona in memoriam, the two instruments seemingly disparate, but meeting each other at one point of intensity in their slow threnody. A whiff of virtuosity is allowed in the brief Einen Augenblik lang for oboe solo, and the pairing of this with Versetto (apokrif organum) for cor anglais and bass clarinet is echoed in the two movements, solo followed by duet, of the Hommage ŕ Elliott Carter. Highlights in the remaining Kurtág pieces include Der Glaube (Péter Bornemisza) for oboe which is a gem of despond, as is …ein Sappho-Fragment for cor anglais. The final piece is Holliger’s four-movement Sonate from 1956, which to a certain extent takes us back to the more lyrical feel of the opening works but with a more technical exploration of the oboe’s strengths, pushing it to stratospheric heights and giving both fingers and lips the kind of workout we all wish we would be able to perform at the age of 20, let alone 80.

This programme is not a barrel of laughs, but neither is it a disc of modern music of which we should be particularly scared. Much of the music is highly expressive, and while the melodic content pushes the boundaries further than you might be used to, that is also its function. We should all be pushed a little further than we might originally desire, but having conquered those sometimes flinty hard pieces we can then look back and regard them with understanding and perhaps even affection. The affection Holliger and his colleagues have for this music is certainly palpable from this fine recording, and as a confluence of great musical minds it has a uniquely intrinsic value that goes beyond words.

Dominy Clements

György KURTÁG (b. 1926)
…Ein Brief aus der Ferne an Ursula (2014) [2:45]
Heinz HOLLIGER (b. 1939)
Berceuse pour M. (2015) [3:02]
…für Heinz… (2014) [2:53]
Die Ros’ (Angelus Silesius) (2010) [1:10]
Angelus Silesius (2010/11) [1:45]
Airs/Lecture pour hautbois et cor anglais (2015/16) [5:49]
Schatten [0:56]
Rozsnyai Ilona in memoriam [2:51]
Einen Augenblik lang [0:38]
Versetto (apokrif organum) [0:55]
Hommage ŕ Elliott Carter [3:13]
Kroé György in memoriam [6:22]
Lorand Gaspar; Désert (2015) [1:27]
Der Glaube (Péter Bornemisza) [2:46]
…summaia a B.P. [1:04]
…ein Sappho-Fragment [1:34]
…(Hommage ŕ Tristan) [0:42]
Einen Augenblik lang [0:38]
In Nomine – all’ongherese (Damjanich emlékkö) [4:58]
Sonate (1956/57 rev. 1999) [13:35]
Heinz Holliger (oboe, cor anglais, piano)
Marie-Lise Schüpbach (cor anglais, oboe)


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