Jörg Widmann: Elegie (CD Review)

Jörg Widmann

Widmann, clarinet; Heinz Holliger, oboe;
Deutsche Radio Philharmonie, Christoph Poppen, conductor

ECM New Series 2110

39 year old Jörg Widmann is a virtuoso clarinetist and one of Germany’s rising stars in the realm of music composition. Both of these aspects of his talents are on display in a new portrait disc released by ECM Records. Christoph Poppen, one of the label’s mainstays (another multi-talented musician – a fine violinist and conductor) leads the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie in a program that displays Widmann as a musician with a diversity of interests and a multi-faceted compositional toolkit to match.

The disc’s title work features Widmann playing a plethora of extended techniques, haloed by orchestral writing that is primarily atmospheric with occasional fierce outbursts. Messe, despite its moniker and movement titles mirroring the Ordinary of the liturgy, is for large orchestra sans voices. Fastidious attention is given to contrapuntal details in several “contrapuncti” movements. Elsewhere a juxtaposition of weighty tutti and long-breathed angular melodies provide some surprising textural shifts.

Fünf Bruchstücke (1997) are early works that feature clarinet and oboe. The latter duties are fulfilled by oboist/composer Heinz Holliger (another formidable double threat!). The two are given many opportunities to display the extended technical capabilities of their respective instruments. But it is the sense of cat and mouse interaction and the energetic elan that typifies much of the compositions’ demeanor that make them far more captivating than many a virtuoso showcase.

Widmann weds musicality and technical facility seamlessly. While the episodic nature of this program gives tantalizing glimpses of his potential, one looks forward to the composer/clarinetist expanding his horizons to larger formal designs on a future recording.

Bensh: “Doubt” (Video)

“Doubt” by Bensh is a good song: moody, folksy indie pop with a loping bass-line and a chorus that, while catchy enough to sing along with, still provides the appropriate dosage of angst.

But, when you add a video (filmed in Berlin and directed by Lynn Kossler) that’s influenced by M.C. Escher: now that was the extra ingredient that grabbed my attention!

Bensh’s LP Clues is out now.

Hosokawa’s Landscapes on ECM (CD Review)

Toshio Hosokawa
Mayumi Miyata, shô;
Munich Chamber Orchestra; Alexander Liebreich, conductor

Composer Toshio Hosokawa (b. 1955) has been featured once before on an ECM recording, as one of three composers programmed on a recital disc by Thomas Demenga. Landscapes is his first portrait disc for the imprint. It features a number of fine performers who are ideal advocates for Hosokawa’s fluid and multifaceted musical language. The Munich Chamber Orchestra, led by Alexander Liebreich, has become a featured ensemble on ECM’s New Series. The quality of their interpretations here readily support the notion of them remaining a ‘house band’ for the Manfred Eicher curated imprint.

Hosokawa’s work combines the influences of Darmstadt school second modernity with elements from traditional Japanese (and Chinese) culture, ranging from gagaku (courtly ceremonial music) and the employment of traditional instruments to examples from fine art: calligraphy and landscape paintings. In works like Ceremonial Dance and Cloud and Light, one is impressed with how seamlessly these various, at times disparate, elements are synthesized. This is particularly evident on Ceremonial Dance, where acerbic harmonies combine with sliding tones to fashion a hybrid of East/West techniques that sounds truly organic and self-contained. Cloud and Light works from a similar palette. But here there is also an interesting juxtaposition of delicate sustained shô and string chords and thunderous low register outbursts.

In addition to participating in Cloud and Light, shô (mouth organ) player Mayumi Miyata is also featured on two other pieces on the disc. Back in 1993, Landscape V was originally scored for shô and string quartet. This updated version for larger ensemble works equally well; both renditions are hauntingly eloquent tone poems. Miyata takes a solo turn on Sakura für Otto Tomek, a work filled with slowly evolving complex clusters of harmony. Sakura’s meditative ambience is shadowed with portentous overtones, creating a rich showcase for the singular and fetching timbres of the shô.

Hosokawa has long been respected in both Japan and Europe. Of late, given the strong reception given Matsukaze, his second opera, in Berlin, his stock has risen considerably in the Euro Zone. One hopes that more American conductors and ensembles will take notice of Hosokawa, a composer with a compelling individual voice developing an impressive body of work. This recording should help!