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Friedrich CERHA (b. 1926)
I Keintate (1980/82) [48:09]
Eine letzte Art Chansons (1989) [20:06]
HK Gruber (chansonnier)
Ensemble Die Reihe
rec. 1984/93, ORF Funkhaus, Vienna, Austria
Texts and translations included
KAIROS 0015100KAI [68:46]

This recent issue complements an earlier Kairos disc devoted to Cerha’s original hour-long vocal cycle Eine Art Chansons (0015028KAI), written for and performed by the (literally) inimitable HK Gruber. In this sequence Cerha for the first time made use of the aphoristic and satirical texts of members of the Wiener Gruppe, an informal association of writers and poets linked to H C Artmann, the doyen of local avant-garde poets whose linguistic currency was Viennese dialect. Among those working within Artmann’s orbit were figures such as Ernst Jandl and Gerhard Rühm, whose sardonic, amusing morsels dominated Eine Art Chansons. Its sequel Eine letzte Art Chansons (Some Later Art Chansons) was conceived as a pithier exploration of the genre; in this case the texts in the main are from the pen of Friedrich Achleitner, another Wiener Gruppe stalwart; Cerha himself contributed texts for the remaining three numbers. Very few of the chansons in either cycle exceed 90 seconds in duration- indeed the majority are done in under a minute. The words themselves take the form of what Cerha has described as “…everyday satires, popular grotesques and political criticism” often organised in a playful vernacular style derived from comments one might have overheard in Viennese cafes and bars, on public transport or on street corners. Cerha characterises his form as chanson rather than lied, seeking in this way to divest the results of any elitist trappings. In so doing these amusing miniatures are far closer to Eislerian cabaret songs than to Schubert; one gets the impression that they have been fully tailored to ‘Nali’ Gruber’s unique expressive versatility. The numbers in Eine letzte Art Chansons are scored for precisely the same line up as the original cycle, namely voice with a trio of piano, string-bass and percussion which paradoxically affords both extraordinary intricacy and jazz-derived freedom. This quaintly coloured combo provides an ideal backdrop for Gruber’s theatrical excess. The three last numbers are extended experiments in the form – the last of all, Zehn putzi gedichti (ten dainty ditties) is in effect a miniature cycle within a cycle which Cerha has dubbed an ‘Aria buffa for Nali’ . it plays with the repetitive vernacular gibberish of popular song; consequently there’s lots of “darling” “sweetie” and “cutie” and the like, albeit in Viennese dialect and delivered in Gruber’s idiosyncratic Teutonic growl. Like the other numbers in the cycle it’s funny, scandalous, musical, entertaining, approachable and reveals a side to Cerha that his compatriots may be more aware of than non-Austrians (or more accurately non-Viennese).

in any case, Eine letzte Art Chansons follows the main work on this disc. This is I. Keintate, another substantial anthology which in itself constitutes something of a pendant as Cerha composed it in parallel with his Brecht opera Baal. The title of this work amounts to a compound of the German word for ‘cantata’ and the name of Cerha’s Viennese contemporary and friend Ernst Kein (1928-85), a dialect poet whose often grubby words provide its text. Superficially listeners may perceive a degree of overlap between the music and overall style of I. Keintate and Eine letzte Art Chansons; there is certainly an omnipresent Viennese atmosphere in the frequent allusions to ‘café’ styles, to the waltzes of Lanner and various Strausses, to the hints of operetta and folk tunes that creep in here and there, but there is an important difference in the vernacular styles of the texts, and this in turn seems to impact on the necessarily ‘fuller’ sound of I. Keintate. The composer has provided a moving, wryly entertaining and succinct summary of each work for the booklet and articulates the nature of those contrasts thus: “ After a rehearsal of the Keintate, I was asked if I took what I was doing seriously…..I did not seek to poke fun at folk music and I did not want to abuse it as decoration or a cheap gimmick, but I used it as a point of departure for stylization and alienation in order to arrive at … ironic distance and sometimes to cast light behind the source. Such a stance should not be confused with the naivety that cannot recognize a cliché for what it is. Here, I am completely in tune with Ernst Kein, who ‘took the words out of people’s mouths’ in the Lutheran sense, adopting dialect phrases in order to stress them by exaggeration. This ‘verbatim’ adoption and aggrandizement of reality constitutes the essential difference between this literature and that by H.C.Artmann (and others), whose poetry is distilled from the dialect of the Viennese proletariat.”

In I. Keintate Cerha has organised 49 of Kein’s ‘sayings’ (drawn from two collections, Wiener Panoptikum and Wiener Grottenbahn) into an elegant 50 minute structure comprising a tiny Prolog, four parts and an extended Epilog. Inevitably Gruber is centre-stage throughout – it’s a sequence which requires enormous levels of stamina from the vocalist apart from anything else – but he is ably supported by a flexible ensemble consisting of pairs of clarinets, horns and violins, single viola, cello and double-bass, a percussionist, and most crucially for the transmission of authentic local flavour an accordion, played with contagious relish by Gerti Winklbauer-Zourek. The time flies by most enjoyably. Gruber completely inhabits Kein’s unfailingly earthy texts, grappling with civic issues as diverse as the availability of local prostitutes, the atmosphere and expense of local funerals, the benefits of meditation and the toilet habits of Viennese pigeons. The petty prejudices, pre-occupations. neuroses and exaggerated stereotypes described and satirised may well be specifically Viennese, but rest assured that each has its counterparts anywhere in the world (not least here in East Lancashire) and Cerha, Kein, Gruber and the instrumentalists do a magnificent job in projecting the universality of these concerns via piquant parochial means.

By now Friedrich Cerha is 95 years young, and his touching reminiscences in the booklet provide a salutary reminder of how the evils that landed upon Vienna during the late 1930s represent a history that’s anything but ancient. The present issue provides reassuring evidence of another, nostalgic side to a composer who is understandably better known for his uncompromising modernist experiments (such as the remarkable Spiegel cycle) and his lauded completion of the third act of Alban Berg’s Lulu. The performances are unfailingly fresh and invigorating; their provenance, from the archive of Austrian Radio’s recordings from the 1980s and 1990s is remarkable given the exemplary clarity of the sound. All in all, this fine issue offers up a most entertaining late-night Cerha revue as well as providing a welcome reminder of the singular vocal talents of HK Gruber, the Viennese phenomenon known more conveniently to his friends and admirers as ‘Nali’. It’s a disc to be savoured alongside a glass or three of decent Grüner Veltliner.

Richard Hanlon

I.Keintate (1980/82)
1. Prolog [0:55]
2. I. Teil [9:44]
3. II. Teil [9:52]
4. III. Teil [7:55]
5. IV. Teil [11:58]
6. Epilog [7:45]
HK Gruber (chansonnier)
Ernst Ottensamer & Norbert Täubl (clarinets)
Günther Högner & Volker Altmann (horns)
Kurt Prihoda (percussion)
Gerti Winklbauer-Zourek (accordion)
Ernst Kovacic & Erich Schagerl (violins)
Heinrich Koll (viola)
Gerhard Iberer (cello)
Josef Pitzek (double bass)
Friedrich Cerha (conductor)

Eine letzte Art Chansons (1989)
7. I. Erzieherischer Akt [0:40]
8. II. Die Utopie der Solidarität [0:46]
9. III. Diagnose [0:42]
10. IV. Achleitner über Achleitner [0:56]
11. V. Meditation [1:26]
12. VI. Gigözzn [0:24]
13. VII. Überlegung [0:31]
14. VIII. Kollegiale Aufforderung….[0:52]
15. IX. Da aunkl Poidi [2:58]
16. X. Da Friedn auf da Wöd [6:40]
17. XI. Zehn putzi gedichti [4:11]
HK Gruber (chansonnier)
Ensemble Die Reihe
Rainer Keuschnig (piano)
Josef Pitzek (double bass)
Kurt Prihoda (percussion)

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