Stockhausen: Stimmung

COMPOSERS: Stockhausen
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Stockhausen
WORKS: Stimmung
PERFORMER: Theatre of Voices/Paul Hillier; Ian Dearden (sound diffusion)
Paul Hillier compares Stimmung with Monteverdi and Gesualdo. It’s a kind of extended motet, mixing meditations on the names of gods and goddesses with erotic poetry. Based on the harmonics of B flat, it comprises 51 ‘models’ (sections) which Stockhausen brilliantly binds into a single inexorably unfolding organic entity, creating a wonderland of floating, swirling, ebbing and flowing vowels, phonemes and chords.


In this new edition Hillier, who was a member of Singcircle when that group recorded its version for Hyperion in 1983 (CDA66115), has succeeded triumphantly in his aim of more accurately realising the effect of the piece in concert, rather than the sometimes disconcertingly in-your-ear close-mic immediacy of Singcircle’s recording, superbly performed though it was. That said, there is still no substitute for the ritualistic enchantment of a live performance in a darkened auditorium with candles or centrally-placed illuminated sphere.

For once, surround-sound is more than a gimmick, since Stockhausen is one of the handful of composers in whose music placement and movement of sound is of the essence. These elements were captured less effectively on the Singcircle disc, though the detail of the sound was extremely clear. However, sharp focus is not necessarily an advantage: Stimmung works its magic best if you let it wash over and float you into its mystical realm.


Two other recordings, made in 1970, are available on Stockhausen-Verlag 12, both performed by Collegium Vocale, who commissioned and premiered the work. Hillier’s dazzling new edition is a companion, not a rival, to earlier versions. Barry Witherden