Jorg Widmann is a present-day composer with expansive concepts and an orchestral mastery of the panoramic-modern virtually unmatched by any living composer. I know that may be a lot to say of someone but I feel convinced of that after listening a number of times to a new disk devoted to his music, Elegie (ECM New Series 2110 476 3309).
The disk contains two major orchestral works and one for clarinet and piano. Christoph Poppen conducts the Deutsche Radio Philharmonic for the Messe fur grosches Orchester and the Elegie fur Klarinette und Orchester. The composer himself plays clarinet on the latter and joins his instrument with Heinz Holliger's piano for the chamber Funf Bruchstucke.
The Messe follows in general outline what a Mass might be for choir and orchestra (sometimes down to the words the choir would ordinarily sing), only conceives of the entire work instrumentally. It is a massive dramatic symphonic work that very deftly engages the assemblage of instruments with an acute sense of sound color and affect. It is a four-dimensional work, performed and recorded with the very high standards one comes to expect in the New Series. It is music that has a very expanded harmonic sense and uses that and orchestrational brilliance to achieve a memorable result.
The Funf Bruchstucke explore clarinet-piano sonorities in miniature with five very brief segments that show another side to Widmann's lucid sense of aural poetics.
Finally the Elegie joins Widmann's clarinet with the orchestra for another masterful work of expressive color. The clarinet part makes its sober but very avant virtuoso presence felt via a very musical use of extended sounds from harmonic double stops to quarter tones. The orchestra responds with some extraordinary timbres and atmospheric eloquence.
Widmann shows on Elegie that he is one of the composers of brilliance today. He extends the wide open avant-guard sound-color tradition into the present day with his own extraordinarily creative scores. These are wonderful to hear. Any student of high modernism should take this music to heart. And modernist aficionados in general will find this CD essential listening.