Eötvös conducts Stockhausen

The conductor brings a composer’s ear to these 20th-century milestones

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Eötvös conducts Stockhausen

  • Gruppen
  • Punkte
  • (The) Rite of Spring, '(Le) sacre du printemps'
  • Mavra

Now a composer of international standing, Peter Eötvös was long known primarily as a conductor of 20th-century repertoire, the fastidious attention to detail of his own music as evident in his performance of others.

The Stockhausen disc demonstrates the ground, conceptual and musical, encompassed by the composer’s protean creativity during the 1950s. Admittedly Punkte (1952) is known today in the 1962 revision, its original sparseness replaced by fuller contrasts of texture. What remains is its strangeness of formal continuity – onward motion determined by relative density of sound as the piece galvanises its initial fragmentation towards a forceful conclusion. It’s a process which is borne out strongly here. With Gruppen (1957), Stockhausen’s equating of sound and space reaches its initial peak – with the three orchestral groups projecting sound in a giddying array of spatial layers. Eötvös directs a performance less impulsive than that by Abbado but more mindful of dynamic subtleties, and audibly more accurate in the use of percussion.

The Stravinsky disc is a unique coupling of works from either end of his ‘Russian period’. Eötvös stands in a select line of composer-conductors to have recorded The Rite of Spring, with his unerring ear for detail in ‘Spring Rounds’ and ‘Ritual of the Ancestors’ as impressive as is his unbridled energy in ‘Glorification of the Chosen One’. Elsewhere, though, he does not always achieve the momentum so intently propelled by Markevitch or the implacability so powerfully maintained by Boulez.

If the Rite is an explosion of sublimated feeling, Mavra channels its Russian-ness into the formalised neoclassicism Stravinsky was soon to embrace. Eötvös scores over Thierry Fischer in his reconciling narrative with music – aided by characterful singers, whose hints of strain are at least faults in the right direction, and an attentive contribution from the Gothenburg orchestra.

The live and broadcast recordings have been capably transferred (the Rite lacks a final degree of definition), with the annotations well up to previous BMC standards. Both discs can be recommended.

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