Kagel: Trio in Drei Sätzen; Schwarzes Madrigal

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COMPOSERS: Kagel
LABELS: Winter & Winter
WORKS: Trio in Drei Sätzen; Schwarzes Madrigal
PERFORMER: Schoenberg Ensemble, Berlin Radio Choir/Mauricio Kagel
CATALOGUE NO: 910 090-2
Mauricio Kagel has such a reputation as a modernist with a sharp sense of humour that some listeners may be nervous: will we get the joke? Will he laugh at our expense? There’s little danger in the Trio, much of it the most euphonious chamber music imaginable, sometimes recalling Schumann, sometimes Mahler. Maybe Kagel is asking whether we’ve noticed how he has built a satisfyingly varied 30-minute structure from such simple resources: repeated notes, brief figures, scales and runs?

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The Black Madrigal is a bit more complex, but not much: a chorus catchily intones the names of African towns, names that almost demand rhythmic chanting (‘Ouagadougou, Marakororokoro’), with a bluesy trumpet to remind us where the roots of jazz are, a trombone for added weight, and percussion for (sometimes local) colour. Well, a few jokes (dubiety about how to pronounce ‘Timbuktu’; surprised pleasure at actually getting there), but, as with the Trio, the overall impression is of a man who happily invents sounds the way apple trees produce apples and who, locked in a room with a ‘No Smoking’ sign in Welsh, would find an unexpected, delightfully engaging way of setting it to music. How pleasant to know Mr Kagel, a sentiment with which his singers and players are obviously in complete agreement. Michael Oliver