Rihm: Morphonie; Klangbeschreibung I-III

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LABELS: Hanssler
WORKS: Morphonie; Klangbeschreibung I-III
PERFORMER: Ingrid Ade-Jesemann, Christa Muckenheim, Christine Whittlesey (soprano), Monika Bair-Ivenz (mezzo-soprano); Gabrieli Quintet, Hague Percussion Group, SWR SO, Baden-Baden & Freiburg/Ernest Bour, Michael Gielen
These are important first recordings of orchestral works, commissioned by South-West German Radio, that have turned out to be milestones in Wolfgang Rihm’s development. He was just 22 when Morphonie was heard at Donaueschingen in 1974, a premiere that must have seemed like a slap in the face to those hardline serialists who gathered there every year, for it showed Rihm using a complex musical language to convey an unmistakably powerful emotional message. It remains a particularly effective work, with its tangles of highly wrought melodic lines pitting a solo string quartet against the might of a full orchestra, and the awareness of the German Romantic tradition in every bar becomes explicit in the valedictory final section, which quotes from Berg and Mahler.


By the time he wrote the three huge panels that make up Klangbeschreibung, Rihm had drastically pared down his music, though the expressive element was just as potent. Even though the central piece includes four female singers, who deliver fragments of Nietzsche against an ensemble of brass and percussion, if it’s a more elliptical work than Morphonie, in some ways it is even more impressive, as the isolated sound objects cohere into something unclassifiably more interesting than the sum of their parts. Andrew Clements