25 Years Experimentalstudio Freiburg
It is good that these sets have appeared in the UK. Not only are many of the composers unfamiliar here, but their work highlights some vital aspects of contemporary composition – notably the parallel development of music in space as in time, directing the listener’s attention as much through its physical as its aural impact. If this seems overtly cerebral, think of the high-impact ‘surround’ scores of recent Hollywood action films, or of ambient music’s all-enveloping presence. However different the results, the means by which they are achieved are substantially the same.
The Freiburg retrospective pays tribute to the studio that has specialized in revealing music’s spatial dimension. In the 1970s, this meant merging composition and performance into a dynamic listening process: witness Ferneyhough’s integration of these apparent opposites into music of claustrophobic intensity. Nono’s work typifies his output in the 1980s, achieving an effortless continuity between its hieratic vocal writing and the graphic ‘interference’ of cellist and speakers, in a sound world as vast as it is intangible. Andre Richard’s Echanges demonstrates musical imagination as well as technical expertise, moving powerfully from its opening antiphonal exchanges to a haunting cor anglais soliloquy. Among recent works, Diego Minciacchi’s Vae Victis makes much of the disparity between the teeming exuberance of the ‘live’ piano part and the studied neutrality of the tape. Isabel Mundry’s Gesichter draws some arresting timbres from voices and percussion, the spatial facet affording an eloquence the music might not otherwise possess.
The selection from the 1997 Donaueschingen Festival confirms that an enquiring spirit is still active, though some will contend that today’s answers are essentially those to yesterday’s questions. Certain works – the Beuger and Mason in particular – are too close to installation art for a recording to adequately convey their meaning. Mauricio Kagel’s Etudes display a pungent orchestral imagination, the musical material shrouded in sufficient ambiguity to keep the listener intrigued. Frederic Rzewski bravely reinvents the egalitarian ensemble, although his Scratch Symphony loses focus after its opening movement – a ravishing study in timbre recalling both Ives and Schoenberg. Anthemes continues Boulez’s spatial exploration of natural and treated sound; its cascading opening and pizzicato resonances – from 13'30'' – are among his most mesmeric ideas. Two other works stand out: Silvia Fomina’s Auguri Aquae maintains a consonant purity through all its accumulating complexity; Peter Ablinger’s IEAOV is akin to a frozen musical sculpture, poised between meaningful harmonic density and white noise.
While these recordings are only a partial overview on the state of Western art music at the close of the century, they offer provocation and satisfaction in equal measure, as well as significant pointers to the future. Everyone drawn into the maze of contemporary culture needs to investigate them.'