Rihm: Music for Oboe and Orchestra; Styx und Lethe; Dritte Musik; Erster Doppelgesang

COMPOSERS: Rihm
LABELS: Hanssler
ALBUM TITLE: Rihm
WORKS: Music for Oboe and Orchestra; Styx und Lethe; Dritte Musik; Erster Doppelgesang
PERFORMER: Soloists; SWR SO, Baden-Baden and Freiburg/Hans Zender, Michael Gielen, Jan Latham-Koenig
CATALOGUE NO: CD-No.93.185
The CD booklet calls Rihm ‘one of the most performed, most discussed, most successful living composers’. I’d suggest that, in the UK at least, he is relatively unrecognised, but he certainly deserves to be well-known and Hänssler is doing its bit to raise his profile with a projected complete edition of his works.

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This volume focuses on four concertos, or, at any rate, pieces pitting soloists against an ensemble. Rihm admires Antonin Artaud, godfather of the ‘theatre of cruelty’, which is intended to jolt audiences out of their complacency and make them perceive events in a new way, a ploy often evident on this CD. The orchestra in the oboe concerto and (even more so) Styx und Lethe, prods, harries and goads the soloist into ever more tense, wound-up reactions. In the cello piece, which becomes a terrifying game of chicken, soloist and ensemble provoke each other to ever more reckless acts, until an episode of reflection is reached which is startling because of its very unexpectedness. Dritte Musik and Doppelgesang don’t stint on the menace and, despite some forgiving moments, are still white-knuckle affairs. Rihm’s shock-tactics are, though, never gratuitous, always a coherent part of a logical musical development. The performances are taut and persuasive. Barry Witherden