Goebbels: Stifters Dinge

COMPOSERS: Goebbels
LABELS: ECM
ALBUM TITLE: Goebbels: Stifters Dinge
WORKS: Sifters Dinge
PERFORMER: Heiner Goebbels (director), Hubert Machnik (programming), Klaus Glünberg (artistic conception)
CATALOGUE NO: 4764193

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Heiner Goebbels is a complete original. His works defy generic boundaries, juxtaposing sound, music, speech, and projected images in fascinating collages. His aim, he says, is to pose questions to themes that fascinate him. In this case, the theme is Adalbert Stifter, a 19th-century Austrian author who wrote mystically intense descriptions of nature.

The ‘dinge’ (things) of the title are named in its 12 movements: Fog, Salt, Water, and so on. But this is no simple setting of Stifter’s quietly reverent texts, though we do hear his words in translation. Alongside them are texts from other writers, including Lévi-Strauss, which catch the theme of environmental destruction in Stifter. We hear scratchy old recordings of Columbian Indians, and traditional Greek songs. Underlying all this is a stream of echoing, throbbing piano music, ‘played’ by mechanical devices on five grand pianos.

On CD the piece lacks the riveting accompanying visuals, which show the pianos advancing on a metal frame over pools of blackening ‘polluted’ water, amid fascinating projected images. Without them, the music does sometimes seem thin. But the longeurs are outweighed by moments of sudden grandeur and drama, and a fascinating atmosphere of dark menace.

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Ivan Hewett