Wolfgang Rihm #39. © 2022 BRmedia Service GmbH

CD Spotlight

Fascinating Listening

Music by Wolfgang Rihm, recommended for those who enjoy the challenges of listening to contemporary music, by GEOFF PEARCE

'The performers here really excel and do this music justice.'


Wolfgang Rihm (born 1952) is a very important figure in contemporary music. He is an author, professor and a very prolific composer of more than five hundred works in many different styles, and his music is constantly evolving. Many of his works have not been performed, but his impact is widely felt throughout the classical music world.

Three works are presented on this disc, with extensive programme notes that can help a new listener to Rihm's music.

The first work, Sphäre Nach Studie (1993-2002), scored for piano, harp, two percussionists and two double basses, was completed in 2002 but grew out of an earlier work for solo piano. It is performed here by pianist Tamara Stefanovich and members of the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks with conductor Stanley Dodds. Lasting nearly twenty-five minutes, this is one of those pieces that one needs to listen to in absolute silence through a good sound system to fully appreciate. The accompanying booklet is very informative as to the composition processes. I found this a very unusual and individualistic work and had to listen a few times until I could start to finally appreciate it. In this regard, I found it the most difficult, but in other ways, the most intriguing. I imagine that this would be very difficult to rehearse and the amount of concentration required would be remarkable. The performers here really excel and do this music justice. In many ways, contemporary music of this nature pushes the boundaries for both performer and listener, but I certainly find the results rewarding as a listener. This work impresses me with its ever changing textures, jagged utterances, very rapid repeating notes, the feeling of space, reverberation and silence.

Listen — Wolfgang Rihm: Sphäre Nach Studie
(900639 track 1, 13:10-13:47) ℗ 2022 BRmedia Service GmbH :

The next work, Stabat Mater (2020) is very powerfully sorrowful. The composer follows the text of the lamentation absolutely. The work is quite raw and conjures up a much earlier age. The viola weaves through the declamatory baritone voice and reflects the emotional content of Mary witnessing and remembering Jesus's suffering and sadness, from a mother's perspective. The work is demanding for both performers - Christian Gerhaher and Tabea Zimmermann - and I am full of admiration for them.

Listen — Wolfgang Rihm: Stabat Mater
(900639 track 2, 11:40-12:35) ℗ 2022 BRmedia Service GmbH :

The last work, Male über Male 2, is the reworking of an earlier solo clarinet piece for Jörg Widmann. This newly worked composition, in which the solo clarinet part has not been changed, but nine instruments have been added, was originally conceived in 2000 and this new version dates from 2008. The work is in four movements and the demands on the clarinettist are considerable, featuring some very high writing, micro intervals, glissandi and other advanced techniques. The composer is very familiar with Jörg Widmann's playing and Widmann was also a composition student of Wolfgang Rihm.

The work is not one where the ensemble simply accompanies a soloist, but instead, the clarinet part becomes the influencing factor from which the other parts evolve. I do believe, for all its difficulties, that this piece will become a part of standard clarinet repertoire one day.

The first movement is nearly seven minutes long and is somewhat free and improvisory in style, although I do not believe the clarinettist is called on to improvise.

Listen — Wolfgang Rihm: I (Male über Male 2)
(900639 track 3, 4:27-5:11) ℗ 2022 BRmedia Service GmbH :

The second movement is slow and rather ghostly in character. It starts off very quietly and, by and large, apart from a few brief, almost agonising utterances, remains so.

Listen — Wolfgang Rihm: II (Male über Male 2)
(900639 track 4, 2:51-3:37) ℗ 2022 BRmedia Service GmbH :

In the third movement, very brief and quite fast, the other instruments are as important as the clarinet. It feels as concentrated as the previous movement felt restrained.

Listen — Wolfgang Rihm: III (Male über Male 2)
(900639 track 5, 0:00-0:33) ℗ 2022 BRmedia Service GmbH :

The last movement is slow, at times, and I think is most similar to the first movement. There is an uneasy feeling and a lot of contrast and varied material, which makes fascinating listening.

Listen — Wolfgang Rihm: IV (Male über Male 2)
(900639 track 6, 3:36-4:30) ℗ 2022 BRmedia Service GmbH :

The performances are very fine, the recording quality excellent and performances notes comprehensive. I certainly would recommend this disc to people who enjoy the challenges of listening to contemporary music and certainly for myself, I enjoy Wolfgang Rihm as a composer, but I think that people who are not really interested in contemporary composers, and prefer a more traditional fare, may struggle. This is a great recording by BR Klassik / Musica Viva.

Copyright © 25 April 2022 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia








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