Alexander, Casti, Boehmer & Rihm

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COMPOSERS: Alexander,Boehmer & Rihm,Casti
LABELS: ECM
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Come Un’ombra Di Luna
WORKS: Works
PERFORMER: Ensemble Belcanto/Dietburg Spohr
CATALOGUE NO: 461 719-2
Belcanto is an all-female vocal sextet, formed in 1986 specifically to perform contemporary music. Its singers have gone on to acquire real skill as percussionists too, steadily assembling a repertoire of specially commissioned pieces that make full use of their versatility. Here the works by Wolfgang Rihm and the senior Israeli composer Haim Alexander involve percussion, while Fabrizio Casti and Konrad Boehmer supply short a cappella pieces in a post-Berio style that is pleasant enough – the sheer beauty of Belcanto’s singing ensures that – but leaves no lasting impression. Alexander’s Mein blaues Klavier, composed in 1990, may be more substantial, setting four poems by Else Lasker-Schüler, but it is couched in the same anonymous language and really no more compelling.

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Rihm’s Séraphin/Stimme, though, is in a class by itself on this disc. It’s one of the satellite works developed out of the same creative nexus as his experimental plotless and textless theatre piece Séraphin, first performed in 1994. The six vocal lines use just isolated syllables, weaving ever-changing patterns and sound masses articulated by untuned percussion. Its dramatic impact is extraordinary; the intensity never flags, and the silences that increasingly punctuate its progress add an air of impalpable mystery. Andrew Clements