Enno Poppe: Stoff. © 2020 Wergo

CD Spotlight

Animals or Aliens?

KEITH BRAMICH listens, unprepared, to instrumental and chamber music by Enno Poppe

'These academic new music works are expertly played but won't appeal to everyone.'


Let's play a game with this CD ... I'll play the 'ignorant', 'unsuspecting' or 'blindfolded' listener. I know that Ensemble Musikfabrik is a contemporary music group and I'm aware that Wergo is based in Europe and often releases recordings of 'off-the-wall' or, at the least, unusual music, so my expectation here was of some kind of cutting edge contemporary music. It's true that I'm responsible for ordering Classical Music Daily's CDs from the distributor - here Naxos UK - for review, and that I chose this one, but I knew and still know nothing about Enno Poppe - not even his nationality.

So let's listen without reading the liner notes, and without making any internet searches or using any reference books. There are five pieces here, Ensemble Musikfabrik is conducted by the composer and there are two soloists, drummer Dirk Rothbrust and violinist Hannah Weirich.

The first work is 100% percussion ... beginning with different kinds of drums. It sounds like a professional player improvising on a drumset, and there's a kind of repeating pattern which is varied. As it continues, the selection of percussion instruments and the dynamics become more varied. Does it keep my attention? Yes, for the entire eleven minutes or so. Do I like it? Not especially, but it creates its own sound-world, and that world is intriguing. When it finishes, I don't particularly want to listen again, but I do. On second hearing, I start to appreciate the sounds themselves more - especially those coming from the instruments which aren't drums, because they provide the most contrast here. The piece is called Fell, but this means nothing to me. I start to become aware of a kind of structure or journey - beginning with drums, played loudly, and ending much the same, with other instruments added, and most of the non-drum instruments appearing in a generally quieter middle section.

Listen — Enno Poppe: Fell for drumset
(track 1, 4:48-5:45) ℗ 2020 Wergo :

Initial impressions of the fast-paced second work, Stoff for nine players, which is for a much wider selection of string, wind and brass instruments, are that it consists of a quickly presented sequence of just the 'speaking tones' of a series of instruments - ie just the very beginnings of notes, forming a crazy sequence of a large number of different unusual sounds. The speed and rapid-fire presentation of new sounds create the impression of more than nine players taking part.

Listen — Enno Poppe: Stoff for nine players
(track 2, 0:01-1:01) ℗ 2020 Wergo :

As the piece progresses, the types of sound change, but the range of sounds and combinations of sounds here continues to be extraordinarily varied and strange. Again there's no danger of losing concentration, in spite of the almost twenty minute length. In one section there's a layering of gently upward-floating glissandi, and something similar happens at two other points. At another place, low notes combine to form a kind of insect buzzing effect. The instruments appear to take on characters of humans, animals and birds which seem to be having a high-energy conversation. All this builds to a climax, just before the piece ends, and then everything deflates.

Each of the five works has a short title, of between three and five letters. For me, they don't strike any resonance with the music, but simply serve as labels. The third piece, Brot, for five players, is for brass, piano and percussion. It begins in a slow and laid-back fashion, with various effects using, for example, glissandi and mutes.

Listen — Enno Poppe: Brot for five players
(track 3, 0:00-0:58) ℗ 2020 Wergo :

The energy, speed and volume gradually increase, in a series of crescendi, each ending fast and frenetic, before a final slow and quiet section, similar to the opening.

Haare for solo violin, is formed from a series of slides, glissandi and tremolo effects, which often change direction during the note. Occasionally, there will be a sequence of notes or a fragment of melody played 'straight'. The result is a very unique sound, almost like nothing else, perhaps suggesting motion, talking, singing and perhaps cartoon characters, animals or aliens.

Listen — Enno Poppe: Haare for violin solo
(track 4, 0:00-0:58) ℗ 2020 Wergo :

It builds to a central climax. I can imagine that the score could be written using a series of curved lines.

Finally Zug for seven brass players, begins with slow notes and chords which gradually change pitch. The pace and dynamics gradually pick up, in a series of four climaxes during the nearly fifteen minute work. Again the sound world is memorable and quite distinct from anything else.

Listen — Enno Poppe: Zug for seven brass players
(track 5, 2:04-2:51) ℗ 2020 Wergo :

Ok - game over. Now I'll read the CD booklet and look online for further information. Enno Poppe is a German composer, conductor and teacher - born in Hemer on 30 December 1969, so he's in his early fifties and his birthday is tomorrow. After studying composition and conducting in Berlin at the Hochschule der Künste, he studied sound synthesis and algorithmic composition in Karlsruhe. He has lived and worked in Berlin since 1990 and has won a series of high profile prizes and awards. The CD booklet refers to him as one of Germany's most important composers of new music.

Martina Seeber's nine pages of academic music notes, translated from German, refer to Poppe's music 'searching for freedom' and being constructed from 'seemingly insignificant material'. There's an analysis of each piece on the CD, full of choice phrases such as '... the urge to construct systems was matched by an anarchic joy in rule breaking, a pleasure that was also a necessity' (describing Stoff) and 'After a series of heterophonic densifications and escalations, the activity suddenly breaks off' (referring to Brot).

Well I think I'll stick to my somewhat simpler language. These academic new music works are expertly played but won't appeal to everyone.

Copyright © 29 December 2020 Keith Bramich,
Worcestershire, UK







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