Rihm Complete works for Violin and Piano

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ALBUM TITLE: Rihm Complete works for Violin and Piano
WORKS: Complete works for violin and piano: Phantom and Eskapade; Kekto; Antilitz; Uber die Linie VII
PERFORMER: Tianwa Yang (violin), Nicholas Rimmer


Although a prolific composer, Wolfgang Rihm is hardly a household name. I would hazard one reason for this: the sternly modernist, as distinct from merely modern, or postmodern, demeanour and methodology of his work. It’s an approach that has slipped out of fashion in an era when the safer sounds of Tavener, Glass, Jenkins
and Rutter fill the airwaves.

You could scarcely do better than this CD for an introduction to some of Rihm’s more intimate pieces: at Naxos’s better-than-reasonable price, it is virtually risk-free. Tianwa Yang and Nicholas Rimmer sound quite at home, even in the most difficult passages, and imbue these works with emotion, as well as meeting their technical challenges with aplomb.

Despite his ascetic and often hard-hitting approach, Rihm’s music is neither overly formalist nor over-cerebral. It makes you feel as well as think. Nor is it unaccommodating and forbidding, though it does make you work a little. Turbulent episodes alternate with passages on the edge of audibility, neo-Romantic gestures jostle the sparsest textures, or transform and tame fierce outbursts. 

Yet again, Naxos deserves praise for making contemporary music accessible at reasonable cost, and through excellent performances.


Barry Witherden