STOCKHAUSEN: Gruppen, Punkte. WDR Sinfonieorchester Kōln/Peter Eōtvōs, Arturo Tamayo, Jacques Mercier, Wolfgang Lischke. BMC 117. 51 minutes
In the mid-1950s Karlheinz Stockhausen produced a series of breakthrough pieces in both instrumental and electronic music. These pieces became famous for their exploration of all of the elements (or “parameters”, in the argot of the day) of music. One of the most important of these works is Gruppen (1955-57), for three orchestral groups.
Regardless of the other elements of music explored in these works, tone color has always been a central concern of the German composer, and Gruppen is a luminous example of his orchestral gift. The piece fairly shimmers, and this recording, led by composer/conductor Peter Eōtvōs, emphasizes its color and instrumental brilliance. The musicians play Gruppen as though this difficult score and the idiom it embodies were in their blood. There are several breathtaking passages of color, rhythm, and dynamics in Gruppen, and they shine through in this reading.
This highlighting of the sound of Gruppen is not at the expense of the other qualities of the score. The phrasing, the building to and receding from climaxes, and the occasional underlining of melodic fragments are all top notch. The expressive content of Stockhausen’s masterpiece has never been more up front than in this fine performance.
The other piece on this disc, Punkte (1952/62, “printed edition”, 1994) is not nearly as potent as Gruppen. I suspect that composer himself feels that way, given the numerous versions of the piece. It has its moments, though, and the musicians of the WDR Sinfonieorchester Kōln are more than up to its challenges.
It makes for an interesting pairing with Gruppen, which, with its brightly glowing palette, is situated largely in the middle and upper registers of the orchestra, and is replete with bells and bell-like sonorities. Punkte, on the other hand, relies heavily on the middle and lower orchestral registers and is full of growling brass and keening lower strings.
Eōtvōs and his musicians make a compelling case for this music. Highly recommended.