PERFORMER: Josef Bierbichler (voice); Ensemble Modern
CATALOGUE NO: 461 648-2
To put things in perspective, imagine a fantasy-form based on the work of Britain’s leading Marxist composer, Alan Bush. Bush was a fine musician, but hardly a ripe subject for such unusual treatment. By contrast, the eventful life and music of Hanns Eisler, East Germany’s post-war composer laureate, cries out for some synoptic view, or so it would seem in the hindsight offered by Heiner Goebbels in his Eislermaterial.
Think Eisler, think Brecht. His name also runs through this musical homage to a great yet still underrated composer; appropriately so, given the Brechtian concerns of Goebbels and his some time collaborator, writer Heiner Müller. The Brecht-Eisler songs at the heart of this piece are chiefly those of exile rather than political action. Sung by actor Josef Bierbichler – no Ernst Busch yet a beguiling presence – their melancholy-minus-nostalgia is the background for the mingling of Eisler-Goebbels arrangements, including excerpts from the Little Symphony and an unfinished string quartet.
If this live recording can’t provide the visual image of the statue of Eisler placed centre-stage at every performance, his spirit is nonetheless present in the montage of excerpts from radio interviews, set as a stunning verbal stretto that pays tribute to a composer who was also a brilliant conversationalist. Nicholas Williams