Kagel: Duodramen; Liturgien; Szenario

ALBUM TITLE: Kagel collection
WORKS: Duodramen; Liturgien; Szenario
PERFORMER: Margaret Chalker (soprano), Martyn Hill (tenor), Roland Hermann, Romain Bischoff (baritone), Wout Oosterkamp (bass); Gulbenkian Chorus, Lisbon;Saarbrücken Radio SO/Mauricio Kagel
CATALOGUE NO: 8.570179
Among the leaders of the European avant-garde in the 1950s and ’60s the development of Mauricio Kagel has always been the hardest to forecast. While composers such as Boulez, Nono, Xenakis continued more or less along the individual paths they had forged in that era of extreme radicalism, Kagel’s course has always seemed much more quixotic. Perhaps because he was born outside Europe (in Argentina in 1931), Kagel has always fixed a beady eye on the traditions and conventions of 20thcentury music and its performance, continually questioning its most fundamental assumptions. In Britain that consciously oblique stance has always seemed even harder to grasp, mainly because so few of Kagel’s major works have been performed here. At least his music is getting properly documented on disc now, thanks largely to the efforts of Winter & Winter. However the threedisc set released as a limited edition for Kagel’s 75th birthday last year concentrates on older works, all with Kagel himself as the main performer. Whether playing the bandoneon on Pandorasbox, or doing a wicked impression of the singer Carlos Gardel on Tango Alemán, his nods towards his native Argentina are typically ambiguous. A econd disc takes in Ein Aufnahmezustand, the first of Kagel’s radiophonic pieces, dating from 1969 and a typically surreal blend of voices and sound effects, while a DVD contains Ludwig Van, the Beethoven homage concocted for the composer’s bicentenary in 1970, with help, among others, from the visual artist Joseph Beuys. All these pieces toy with fundamental ideas of what music is, and how its borders with other art forms can be meaningfully blurred, but since the 1970s Kagel’s interests have been more centred within the language of music itself. The second Winter & Winter releases brings the story almost up to date, with two pieces from 2001, framing the Serenade for three players written six years earlier. Quirinus’ Liebeskuss is a wonderfully potent choral setting of a 17th-century German sonnet written in monosyllables, with the voices and ensemble commenting upon each other, while Kagel’s related Double Sextet uses similar instrumental textures as the raison d’ être for an absorbing 20-minute movement in which ghosts of many other composers seem to flit past. The Naxos disc colours in a few more details in the Kagel picture. The composer describes Duodramen, with its soprano and baritone soloists, as part an orchestral songcycle in the Mahlerian tradition, and part the final scene to an imaginary opera whose characters include Cosima Wagner, Alma Mahler and Genghis Khan. Of the other pieces, Szenario found its métier as the soundtrack to Buñuel’s silent classic Un chien andalou. Liturgien is another of Kagel’s commentaries upon one of the icons of the Western artmusic tradition, in this instance the liturgical mass, which is reassembled in a disconcerting way. Andrew Clements