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Vocal music by
Wolfgang Rihm -
reviewed by

'... purity, clarity and commendable accuracy.'

Wolfgang Rihm Lieder. Clare Lesser, David Lesser. © 2003 Metier Sound and Vision Ltd

Wolfgang Rihm (born 1952) studied at the Musikhochschule Karlsruhe, at Darmstadt in 1970 and with Stockhausen in Cologne; so his modernist credentials are excellent. He has, though, shown a surprising interest in traditional forms, having written a number of works in that notoriously recalcitrant medium, the String Quartet. He has also written a significant number of lieder and song cycles which are significantly under-represented in the current CD catalogue.

I was, therefore, cautiously pleased to encounter this disc of Rihm's vocal music recorded by husband and wife team Clare and David Lesser. Soprano Clare Lesser has made post-war composers something of a speciality.

The main work on the disc is Ende der Handschrift -- Elf späte Gedichte von Heiner Müller, a cycle of eleven songs setting late poems by Rihm's regular dramatic collaborator Heiner Müller (1929-1995). These were written in 1999 and premièred in 2000 by the tenor Christoph Pregardien but in Rihm's catalogue they are simply described as being for voice and piano.

Listening to these songs, and to the others on the disc, I was struck by how much Rihm's art is part of the continuum of the German lied. There are the obvious echoes of the Second Viennese school, but Rihm seems to reach back to earlier composers and to reflect a sense of continuity of tradition rather than dislocation. That is not to say that the music is not difficult and, at times, dense. In these works Rihm is working in a highly pared down way, the vocal line sometimes reduced to simple inflections and the piano confined to rhetorical gestures.

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Copyright © 13 February 2005 Robert Hugill, London UK


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