CERHA Nacht. 3 Orchestra Pieces
Although Kairos’s rate of production has decreased in the past few years, the Viennese label still regularly releases discs of music by contemporary Austrian composers. This CD of two recent orchestral works by Friedrich Cerha, celebrating the composer’s 90th birthday, is a welcome addition to Kairos’s four previous albums of his music.
While Cerha’s recent chamber music adheres to classical forms, his orchestral music from the same period eschews them, revisiting instead the principles laid out in his sound-mass works from the late 1950s such as Spiegel. Commissioned for the Donaueschingen Festival in 2014 (from which date this recording is taken), Nacht is a work of slow-building textures and beautiful sonorities. A night sky of harmonic stasis is periodically intruded upon by meteor showers of glissandos shooting across the orchestra. The SWR Symphony Orchestra, Baden-Baden and Freiburg, is in fine form, from delicately tolling tubular bells via Bergian woodwind lyricism to immense brass chords.
The Drei Orchesterstücke (2006 11) show Cerha in pensive mood. Though intended, he says, ‘to be nothing more than good music,’ they appear on the contrary an act of retrospection over a life, from opening lullaby to closing intimations of mortality. In the ‘Berceuse céleste’ (2006), a texture of quiet string ostinatos gradually expands to admit an ambling brass motif, a curious, capricious figure that comes to trigger chaotic upsurges of sound. The ironically titled ‘Intermezzo’ (2010 11) is a long, loud, violent work full of wild polyphony. Though Cerha’s knack for conjuring up ecstatic sounds as usual serves him well, at 20 minutes this central movement outstays its welcome. ‘Tombeau’, the closing movement, is a work of funereal shades, low strings and brass leading the way. Little happens other than a slow crescendo to a cacophonous tutti and a corresponding slow fade away; but, as often with Cerha, this intense darkness finds expression in wonderful orchestral colour, and the work has a stately grandeur.