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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Wolfgang Rihm, Et Lux

There are composers out there today who get your attention ever so gradually over a period of time. Through the accident of place and convergence you only come to appreciate their stature after an ongoing period of exposure. Such a composer for me has been Wolfgang Rihm (b. 1952). I've listened to and appreciated selected works but now with the release of Et Lux (ECM New Series 2404 4811585) I am fully illuminated.

The 2009 work is for vocal quartet (Huelgas Ensemble) and string quartet (Minguet Quartet) under the direction of Paul Van Nevel. The sung text consists of fragmented excerpts of the traditional Roman Requiem. The string quartet plays pianissimo, with mutes, the upper-ranged instruments bowed close to the fingerboard to create the sound of an ancient consort of viols.

The vocal parts combine early music styles with ultra-modern harmonic densities. The strings similarly give way at times to eruptions of the very contemporary both with and against the vocal group.

The hour-long work is a masterfully original example of the early-in-the-late aspect of contemporary music, not following Arvo Part in sound and substance, but creating a mysteriously engaging parallel soundscape that reflects Rihm's own sensibilities.

Rihm makes use of old church harmonic part writing as well as the fully dissonant and open possibilities of the modernism we still find central to the world we live in today.

The result is a music of remembrance and a sort of confrontation of the weight of our cultural heritage with the real totalities of the present.

In the end we are treated to a haunting work that brings us squarely to Rihm's brilliance. The performance is everything one would hope it to be. The recording has the ECM resonance one expects, which seems especially right for a work of this sort.

Thrilling music! This one is a must for those who follow the trends in new music and an enthralling listening experience as well. Wolfgang Rihm enchants our ears with a masterpiece.

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