Goebbels: Black on White

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Black on White
PERFORMER: Ensemble Modern
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 68870 2
It’s one of the ironies of current classical music marketing strategies that the most memorable attempts at ‘crossover’ are to be found not in the heavily commodified products of the Nymans and Meltdowns but in the cultic byways of pop music. The situation in Germany is a telling example, with so-called ‘Krautrock’ groups such as CAN, Faust and Amon Düül at times producing sounds more akin to those of Sixties Stockhausen than to the banalities of present-day Eurotrash. So too with the classically marketed Heiner Goebbels, theatre director and jazz musician as well as classically trained composer.


Black on White is described as ‘Music theatre with Ensemble Modern’. It’s certainly no conventional narrative-driven opera, nor is it concerned with exploring psychological character states. The protagonists are the musicians themselves, several of whom are called upon to recite as well as play. Its 23 sections are perhaps best appreciated as a surrealist concatenation of unlikely musical encounters – between, for instance, musique concrète, jazz, Japanese koto music and more traditionally classical forms (such as Goebbels’s marvellous reinvention of the chaconne principle at the centre of the work).


If, inevitably, one misses the visual dimension, such is the strength of Goebbels’s invention that Black on White springs vividly – and disorientingly – to life through sound alone. Recommended without reservation. Antony Bye