COMPOSERS: Cilensek,etc,Finke,Klebe Baur,Liebermann,Ligeti,Zechlin,Zimmermann
LABELS: RCA Red Seal
ALBUM TITLE: Musik in Deutschland 1950-2000
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 73658
For the wider world, any country’s musical culture is unavoidably defined by its leading proponents. Even for those of us with a special interest in the music of the last half century, German music since the Second World War has been dominated by barely a dozen composers, representing a whole spectrum of stylistic schisms and shifts; we know very little and hear even less of those many composers who provide the wider context for those internationally admired figures. That should make a set like this, a chronologically arranged compilation from radio tapes and studio recordings of some 30 concertos and concertante works, a primer in what we rarely hear.
Yet this collection is clearly intended for domestic consumption. None of the booklet notes is translated (just to make things harder, the first and last pages of one booklet are missing too), so non-German speakers have to work hard, especially as some of the composers included are not in the latest edition of Grove either. The rationale behind the selection is mysterious as well – of course it’s partly an exercise in artistic reunification, juxtaposing works from the old West and East Germanys, partly a reminder of the significance of the German radio network, which has played such a vital cultural role since 1945 – but as a historical survey the result sometimes seems arbitrary.
There are obvious omissions, Henze most glaringly, and if Ligeti is regarded as German now (he has lived there since 1957) why not Kagel, who has been there almost as long? As it stands, this cross-section of pieces confirms one thing – that the composers we know best are prominent for a good reason. There are no undiscovered masterpieces here, and when a work like Ligeti’s Cello Concerto, Lachenmann’s Air for solo percussion and orchestra or even BA Zimmermann’s trumpet work Nobody Knows De Trouble I See comes along, it stands out like a beacon. Anyone who doubts the pernicious influence of Hindemith’s cosy brand of neoclassicism on both sides of the Berlin Wall should be made to listen through the early discs of this set, and while it is good to have on disc the piano concertos by Wolfgang Rihm and Detlev Müller-Siemens as well as Hans-Jürgen von Bose’s piece for oboe and orchestra, there is far too much unmemorable note-spinning around them.
Performances have the usual radio orchestra fluency, and the recordings range from the acceptably hissy to the decently vivid, but only avid collectors of 20th-century arcana need seek the set out. Andrew Clements