With the Wolfgang Rihm of solo piano compositions you hear a complex musical mind at work over time. And with the new release Klavierwerke 1966-2000 (Telos 108, 3-CDs) you can experience that remarkable phenomenon for yourself in a series of excellent performances by pianist Udo Falkner.
After repeated listens to the entire set I report back to you. Wolfgang Rihm has not stuck with one personal style over time. And the styles he energizes at any given point he does with rather striking originality.
The sheer amount of brilliance to be experienced on these disks is such that I feel daunted to describe it all adequately in this short space. But I will try.
There are his steady-state compositions, the piano music that uses the rhythms and harmonic-melodic conventions of early modernism (which also I suppose is in part a post-modernism). There are the pointilistic, post-Darmstadt, post-serialist pieces that have structure and a kind of utopian newness. And then there are the post-Cagean spartanist sorts of pieces, with silences, space and a kind of free melodic non-repetitiveness. The last two categories meld together at points, understandably, but they seem to hold true more or less in his corpus as presented here.
So you have those three loosely defined sorts of pieces. What makes it important and what makes it interesting is that Maestro Rihm does not do the expected within any of the three parameters. He makes it all different by his striking choice of notes. Now this may sound a bit obvious, but not as you listen. He is unmistakably Rihm the composer and no one else throughout the course of these three disks. Pianist Udo Falkner brings out the "Rihm-ness" of the music quite nicely.
In the end, for me. after my customary five listens for a review such as this, I am left with, "This music is different! It strikes the respective stylistic forms squarely in the center at each juncture, yet it does so in ways that make me want to hear it all a great deal more in order to appreciate it more fully." That's probably the ideal situation for the new music listener to be in: an open-ended challenge to appreciate and understand over a lifetime.
And so I recommend this set heartily. Rihm is Rihm! It takes time to get with him!