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Matthias Ronnefeld

I hear the Drummers
strike the Sky


CD Review

It is difficult not to be influenced by extramusical circumstances into forming opinions on a composer that spread an exaggerated enthusiasm among those who have not heard. In the absence of any other talent to appraise new work, many of our various promoters and administrators of music use the less relevant background chitchat as a route to an opinion.

The view from a composer's bedroom window of the Atlantic lashing a Scottish rocky shore, or the sight of Canada over Lake Irie from a rough studio at Silver Creek, cannot make the counterpoint more skilful or the harmonic motion any stronger. So it is also with the less fortunate circumstances like poverty, illness and even death, that an enthusiastic opinion of a composer is made or improved.

One must be cautious about these ardent commentators' views; perhaps they mean well but may very well be technically disappointing. All this can be applied to the notes provided with a new recording of songs and chamber music by Matthias Ronnefeld, a composer born in Vienna into a very musical family, a severe diabetic, who became a Danish citizen when he was 18, and died in 1986 at the age of 27. Matthias Ronnefeld: I Hear the Drummers Strike the SkyHis short life's work comprises only a dozen completed pieces, and the five included on this CD certainly highlight a conspicuously agile imagination and precocious instrumental skills. But Sven Eric Werner's ebullient notes cloud the issue with philosophical grandeur - I quote: 'With growing politicization and globalization, and especially the deluge of the youth culture on the 60s and 70s, the notion of a unified culture led by a pace-setting avant-garde lost the last shreds of its credibility and fascination. Instead a range of vital subcultures grew up; the material fetishism of dogmatic modernism and the unequivocal nostalgia of neoclassicism had to yield to a more relaxed, but not necessarily less demanding stylistic pluralism'.

He calls Ronnefeld 'one of the (always a useful loop-hole!) most gifted composers of his generation . . . an unusual talent of amazing artistic maturity with a craftsmanship that easily gave voice to his youthful, undogmatic radical nature'. Among all this are the significant facts: he studied with, and was clearly much influenced by, Per Nørgard and György Ligeti, whose spirit haunts the impressive and succinct organ piece 'Christ ist erstanden' of 1981, a recording made in 1998 by Jens E. Christensen in Copenhagen specially for this CD. In 1983 Ronnefeld was one of the founders of the Ensemble Moments Musicaux Hamburg, built to instrumental specifications for which he had already written. The early Sextett, op.2 of 1979 is four attractive movements for flute, clarinet, piano, violin, cello and percussion, over which the ghost of Alban Berg hangs heavily. The Clarinet Sonatine, played by Nele Langrehr with pianist Johannes Harneit, was the last of his completed works and clearly explores Ligeti's theatrical world, showing signs of an individual voice, the sound of a metronome pushing the short final scherzo along with breathless desperation.

But it is the songs that seem most evasive stylistically, suffering from that 1980s self-consciousness that affected many and distinguished none, angular, pretentious, vocally unrewarding. The CD's title (I Hear the Drummers Strike the Sky) is one of the ten tiny poems by Australian, New Zealand and USA children that make up the song cycle Miracles for contralto (Susanne Blattert), clarinet and piano - 9-year-old Glenys Van Every's description of thunder.

In the other song cycle, 5 Trakl Lieder, op.4, soprano Daniela Bechly is accompanied by a larger ensemble, like the Sextett with additional trombone and double bass. This too is reminiscent of the more romantic side of the Second Viennese School. The whole CD is beautifully played and the recordings (all, apart from the organ piece, ten years old) are clear and well balanced.

But though Matthias Ronnefeld was undoubtedly a young composer of great potential, sadly and prematurely halted, this anthology does not provide the evidence its enthusiastic introduction would have us accept. He was not alone during the 1980s among like-talented young composers searching the debris for gold. He made bronze nuggets and is rightly and affectionately remembered with this CD.

 Copyright © Patric Standford, June 16th 1999

Matthias Ronnefeld: I hear the Drummers strike the Sky

Miracles, Op 10 (1983)
Sextett, Op 2 (1979)
Sonatine, Op 12 (1984)
Christ ist erstanden, Op 6 (1981)
5 Lieder nach Trakl, Op 4 (1979/86)

Ensemble Moments Musicaux Hamburg
Jens E. Christensen, organ

Dacapo Records 8.224102      DDD       Duration: 62'34


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