STRAVINSKY: Concerto for piano, winds, double-bass, and kettledrums
(1930). ZIMMERMANN: Symphony in One Movement (1951/1953). FORTNER: Symphony
for Large Orchestra (1947). LIGETI: Lontano for Large Orchestra (1967).
Nikita Magaloff (piano), NDR Symphony Orchestra, Cologne Radio Symphony
Edition Günter Hänssler PH05042 () (DDD) TT: 72:15
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The other Günter Wand. I suppose when you ask most music-lovers about
Günter Wand, they think of the Brucknerian. Because of my musical
interests, that idea struck me as more than a little strange. While I like
Bruckner's music, I don't thrill to it, like his ardent fans, or even seek
it out very often. A little Bruckner seems to go a long way with me. However,
I do love the Twentieth Century, and Wand had built his Cologne and Hamburg
bands into European powerhouses of Modern rep, along with Rosbaud's and
Gielen's Southwest German Radio Symphony. Nevertheless, none of these men
specialized in the Modern and Contemporary. They all could do other things
superbly: Rosbaud, a great Mozart conductor, Gielen magisterial in Beethoven
However, Wand in particular felt a mission. He took over the Cologne Radio
Symphony just after the war. Creative German musical life had crumbled.
The Third Reich had either killed or exiled most of their first-rank composers.
Schoenberg, Hindemith, Toch, Korngold, and Weill, had left for the United
States and didn't intend to come back. Schulhoff, Haas, Kremer, and Ullmann
perished in concentration camps. Generations of young composers had been
both denied the teaching of these men and cut off from a Modernist mainstream.
Arguably, Germany has yet to recover. But for the brief emergence of the "Darmstadt
School," the new-music action still seems to have happened largely
elsewhere. Wand saw it as his duty to encourage the young guard, as far
as he was able. He also didn't want to perform works he didn't believe
in. In general, he chose somewhat conservatively -- Zimmermann rather than
Stockhausen, for example -- and he did turn down works that fortunately
went on to have a life outside his orbit. Yet, he indeed took chances and
for the best of reasons.
This CD consists of broadcast recordings. Here and there, one finds minor
fluffs, but these don't detract from, in general, stunning accounts. The
Stravinsky and Ligeti are classics and the Zimmermann and Fortner certainly
not less than interesting.
In fact, despite some stumbles on the orchestral "stings" in
the second movement, I don't hesitate to award Wand's performance of the
Stravinsky piano concerto pride of place. Indeed, he and soloist Nikita
Magaloff have changed my notions of this work, which usually comes across
as a trifle stodgy (or "monumental," if you like it). That's
certainly the case of the composer's Sony recording with Entremont, all
in all a misfire. The later Capriccio, written for Stravinsky's own piano
capabilities and concert use (he claimed to lack sufficient left-hand technique
for the concerto), engages a listener far more. However, under the leadership
of Wand and Magaloff, Stravinsky's stiff monument becomes electric, a wild
thrill ride in the first and last movements, beautifully lyrical in the
slow movement. You can hear links to the slow movements of Ravel's G-major
concerto and Poulenc's concerto, the latter at least a quarter-century
down the road. One doesn't often imagine Stravinsky's music as tender,
though he does indeed have his tender moments.
Bernd Alois Zimmermann's symphony shows close affinities with the Brucknerian
symphony, although it runs far shorter. One hears in it a concern to connect
with the German symphonic tradition as well as to innovate. Zimmermann's
high sense of mission ultimately hurt him. Music was "more than music." It
had to change not only individuals, but whole societies. Zimmermann, born
in 1918, took his own life in 1970, after his best work, the opera Die
Soldaten, failed to transform the moral face of Western Culture..Like most
one-movement symphonies, Zimmermann's breaks down into sections: an intro,
a march, a funeral march, a scherzo,
and a quick conclusion, with slow interludes cropping up along the way.
The whole thing sounds almost dodecaphonically tight, but I can't tell
without a score. It's mainly a cry, a lament that wants to get inside you.
Keeping it all together couldn't have been easy, but Wand and his band
give you something deep and Romantic.
Fortner's symphony, on the other hand, counts as my first acquaintance
with this composer's work. Fortner taught both Zimmermann and Henze, and
Henze may have learned his clear scoring from Fortner. Fortner's work surprised
me, due to its resemblances to the propulsive American neoclassicism of
the Forties. I suppose that Stravinsky's Symphony in C and Symphony in
Three Movements provide the link. It's a very attractive work, full of
vigor and drive, but not iconic. Younger composers, including Henze and
Zimmermann, chose different paths.
One of those different paths was cut by Ligeti, and you've got to give
Wand credit for his championing of this composer. Wand also programmed
Atmosphères (1961). Both that and Lontano update
musical Impressionism and spawned a raft of knock-offs, most of which have
sunk without regret.
The difference comes down to the fact that, unlike his imitators, Ligeti
was an inspired composer. Lontano is a study in melting and shifting
colors as well as dynamics. There's no melody, harmony, or even much in
of distinguishable rhythm. Yet the piece fascinates as a kind of tour
de force. Superficially, it reminds most listeners of a wash of sound,
like the similar vocal effects in Lux aeterna, used in Kubrick's 2001.
In both cases, however, "wash" really is the wrong word. Close
listening reveals a canny exploitation of ambiguities of timbre among instruments
-- one can mistake an oboe in a certain register for a trumpet, for example.
The method has its roots in Webern, particularly in that composer's orchestration
of the Musical Offering's Ricercar, but Ligeti changes the emphasis.
In Webern, the orchestration illuminates structure. In Ligeti, the orchestration
pretty much is the structure. Every event, precisely notated (no aleatoric "vamp
'til ready"), sparked interest among composers in how Ligeti pulled
it off. This led not only to new techniques, but to new clichés
of contemporary music, from which Ligeti himself remained blessedly free.
If ever a composer might be called visionary, it's Ligeti. And his vision
of how music could move and sound changed significantly and more than once
over the years.
An extreme attentiveness and rhythmic crackle distinguish all the performances
on the CD. Wand insisted on something like eight rehearsals for every performance,
so nothing sounds slapdash or hurriedly considered. The amount of detail
impresses as well as the amount of forethought with each score. The music
sounds as if it has become part of these players, a spontaneous expression
that paradoxically comes only after a great amount of work. The sound is
good, but not luxurious. That wouldn't suit these works anyway.
S.G.S. (April 2007)