Wolfgang Rihm (b. 1952) has been gaining international recognition steadily as a composer of importance, and deservedly so. I am not that familiar with his chamber music, so when Naxos recently released the Complete Works for Violin and Piano (Naxos 8.572730) I jumped at the chance to hear and review it.
The complete output at this point consists of five works, written over a long period, 1972 through 2006. For this recording the considerable efforts and artistic panache of Tianwa Yang (violin) and Nicholas Rimmer (piano) were enlisted. They do a very commendable job negotiating the twists and turns of music that sometimes sounds quite difficult to play. In the process they manage to put each work in a bright, dramatic light for us to appreciate.
This is high modernist fare, fully abstract for the most part and exciting to hear.
The Phantom und Eskapade (1993/94) has a vibrant sonority and a periodicity that identifies it readily as in a concertante style.
Hekton (1972) is relatively brief but filled with turbulently invigorating sound events that demand precision and passion from the players. Yang and Rimmer handle it all with fluidity and a gracefully dynamic presence.
Antlitz (1992/93) has quiet subtlety and repose, punctuated by expressive outbursts that help frame the tenor of the work.
Eine Violinsonate (1971/75) concentrates on the violin's heroic potential to soar melodically and exultantly into realms of pitch and velocity, to enter special musical universes all its own. Like Phantom it is in concertante style, with brilliant violin writing that Tianwa Yang attacks with impressive energy and verve.
The final work, Uber die Linie VII (2006) is for violin alone. This is the world premiere recording. It has a restrained rhapsodical quality with periodic eruptions of passion. The intervals utilized and the understated yet plaintive quality give the work a sort of searching, longing quality to my ears. Once again Yang takes the work on beautifully.
Rihm is one of our most important present-day modernists and this disk shows him in an excellent light. The dedicated musicality of Yang and Rimmer bring the works alive in all the right ways. The music covers a wide period of Rihm's output. Each work is significant, essential Rihm. An impressive recording!