ALBUM TITLE: Rihm
PERFORMER: MusikFabrik/Stefan Asbury
CATALOGUE NO: 777 169-2
The 54 year-old German Wolfgang Rihm is a composer of vast energy, who pours out pieces at the rate of half-a-dozen a year, and the music itself often has a tremendous force. That energy is certainly audible on this recording of a cycle of ten pieces with the generic title Chiffre, composed for chamber ensembles of various sizes. Unfortunately the liner note is a prize specimen of that ghastly new-music ‘German English’, which tells us that Rihm’s ‘soundsigns’ are ‘inscribed in a music of absolute conception’.
But if you can ignore that and just listen, there is some enthralling music among these short, intense pieces. As you’d expect from the generic title they all have a family resemblance, sharing the same obsession with a few gestures such as high hammered piano notes, and furious repeated triplet rhythms.
Rihm doesn’t compose in the normal sense; he kneads sounds into interesting shapes, and then hurls the results at the listener’s head. Pockets of mad activity are followed by scary moments of near-silence, which are sometimes so long you begin to wonder if your CD player is on the blink. Some of the pieces are too obviously a yard cut from the same roll of cloth, but the best are wonderful. The performances are marvels of intensity, and the recording is so clear the players seem to be sitting in one’s lap. Ivan Hewett