Kagel: Serenade for Three Instrumentalits; Auftakte, sechshändig; Phantasiestück

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COMPOSERS: Kagel
LABELS: CPO
WORKS: Serenade for Three Instrumentalits; Auftakte, sechshändig; Phantasiestück
PERFORMER: L’Art pour L’Art
CATALOGUE NO: 999 577-2
Given that most of Kagel’s music contains an important theatrical component, it’s surprising just how well it transfers to the sound-only medium of CD. The catalyst for Auftakte, sechshändig (1996), the first work on this expertly played disc of Kagel’s chamber music, was the silent gestural language which conductorless musicians employ to achieve co-ordination; yet, as a succession of shortish, loosely related, self-contained musical modules, its ten minutes follow the pattern of much of his recent music, including the longer Serenade and Phantasiestück, and can be enjoyed without the visual gags.

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Serenade for Three Instrumentalits (1994-5) explores material appropriate to its title – scraps of folkish melody, alla gitarra strumming, twittering birdsong and macabre humming, among much else, defamiliarising it through bizarre juxtapositions and outrageous scorings, but never crossing the boundaries of musical proportion. In similar vein, Phantasiestück for flute and piano (1987-8) runs an absurdist gamut from off-centred neo-classicism to lugubrious parody, bringing to the genre a much-needed breath of fresh air – literally so in the extended techniques sometimes required of the flautist.

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Like the majority of Europe-based composers who emerged after the war, Kagel paid due homage to, and soon asserted his independence from, the prevailing avant-garde orthodoxy. As with Stockhausen’s Kontakte, Transición (1958-9), scored for the similar line-up of piano, percussion and tape, explores the interface between sounds perceived by Western tradition as ‘musical’ and those excluded as ‘noise’. The resultant pointillist mélange is an effective, but brittle offering, typical of its time, prescient of the later Kagel in its fine craftsmanship but not as yet of the extraordinary musical imagination to come. Antony Bye