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Stockhausen: Stimmung
Theatre of Voices/Paul Hillier
Harmonia Mundi

I confess, I’m not a huge fan of Stockhausen’s music. However, Stimmung has always been among my favorite works by KS, perhaps because of its steady drones and repetitive structures. I remember the original LP from the 70’s, which I have not heard since that decade, and have the Singcircle recording that is a very good performance. However, this recent release by The Theatre of Voices under Paul Hillier is absolutely first-rate, and I’d be hard pressed to imagine a better interpretation of this work.

Stimmung is a work for six voices that lasts well over an hour and was inspired by Aztec ruins. The various sections invoke names of different deities, including Ahura Mazda and names drawn from a wide variety of religions. Indeed, the composition consists of 51 “models” that include rhythms and 61 “magic words” that include some pretty funny language at times, and at varying points, there is pure text recitation (generally in German). Imagine a bunch of gods being invoked, along with some random words and at one point a cowboy saying “C’mon ” and you have a pretty good idea of what Stimmung is about. Oh, and all this revolves around a drone in B-flat. For 78 minutes.

If you described this to most people, it would sound like pure nonsense, even dreck written under the influence of some serious peyote or mushrooms. But the music really works, and indeed, Stimmung remains one of Stockhausen’s best pieces, at least to my ears.

So if previous versions have been so good, why add another to the mix? Perhaps because this represents yet another interpretation of the various models, and because the musicality of the performance is so good. That doesn’t diminish the Singcircle recording (indeed, I actually prefer their performance of the one section near the beginning where a female voice keeps repeating something like “Kommit” over and over again at increasingly higher pitches till it sounds like a near-inaudible high pitched tone, which is more amusing than in the Hillier recording that phrases this more operatically). But the two existing versions complement one another quite well. The Hillier recording is a few minutes longer, and I do think the tempo is a tad slower in some parts than in the Singcircle recording, so if you want to prolong your enjoyment of Stimmungfurther, the Hillier recording would be your best bet. This is a welcome addition to the vast catalog of Stockhausen’s work (most of which can only be had through Stockhausen’s own recording and distribution firm at higher-than-average prices), and is also available as a DRM-free download online.

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