WORKS: Piece (Quartet) for Oboe, Cello, Piano & Percussion; Cantata for Voice, Voices & Instruments; String Quartet
PERFORMER: Cornelia Kallisch (mezzo-soprano); Silesian String Quartet, Hanns Eisler New Music Group, Leipzig, Robert Schumann CO/Jürgen Kussmaul
CATALOGUE NO: 999 090-2
There’s something disconcerting about Stefan Wolpe’s music: beneath the fractured surfaces and the strict serial techniques which Wolpe derived from Webern, with whom he studied in 1933 before fleeing from the Nazis, seems to lurk a freer, more extrovert spirit. In the last movement of the Quartet for Oboe, Cello, Piano and Percussion, for instance, the music suddenly breaks out of its tightly worked thematicism: the players sing back motifs to their instruments, the pianist breaks ranks to offer a little dance direct to the audience,
and the percussionist claps his hands and stamps his feet; in the Cantata, to texts by Hölderlin, Herodotus and Robert Creeley, the solo mezzo is shadowed by three further female singers and two speakers, as if to multiply the meanings and make the settings yet more allusive.
The most abstract work here is the late String Quartet, originally composed for the Juilliard Quartet. This is Wolpe at his purest and most refined, creating a dialectic between the four instruments that is highly charged with nervous energy. Every so often the music congeals: the instruments pile up into a single chord, before separating again and pursuing their own courses. Some of the music seems anguished, almost angry, but beneath it always are little kernels of lyricism that Wolpe can never quite suppress. Andrew Clements