WORKS: Gruppen; Grabstein für Stephan; Stele
PERFORMER: Jürgen Ruck (guitar) Berlin PO/Claudio Abbado, Friedrich Goldman, Marcus Creed
CATALOGUE NO: 447 761-2
For all its status as a classic of the post-war European avant-garde, Gruppen, forty years old this year, remains a ‘difficult’ work, both for its three conductors trying to sort out the logistics of synchronising three independent ensembles, and the listener trying to probe beyond its glittering, hyperactive surface. Given the long wait and Abbado’s known commitment to New Music, it would be good to report that this, only its third commercial recording, supersedes the two pioneering accounts from Stockhausen & Co, once available on Harmonia Mundi and DG LPs (the latter recently reissued on CD by Stockhausen Verlag as part of its ongoing complete edition). Sadly, this proves merely a safe alternative, a cautious, though polished, play-through which fails to recapture the heady abandon of its age, even during the famous, unprovoked exchange of brass chords at the climax.
Kurtág’s two recent memorials, Grabstein für Stephan and Stele fare much better and, in their typically eclectic fusion of 20th-century musical styles from Webern to minimalism into something utterly compelling, strange and indescribably sad, demonstrate just why he is perhaps the most representative composer of our time, a celebrant of a post-modernism nourished, not repelled, by that modernism which so many are trying hard to persuade us to forget. Antony Bye