Thomas Larcher: Madhares

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Larcher
LABELS: ECM
WORKS: Madhares: String Quartet No. 3; Böse Zellen; Still
PERFORMER: Tim Fellner (piano), Kim Kashkashian (viola); Munich Chamber Orchestra/Dennis Russell Davies; Quatuor Diotima
CATALOGUE NO: ECM 476 3651

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At the heart of Thomas Larcher’s music is an intriguing conflict. He has a fabulous ear for unusual sonorities, which he fashions into surprisingly logical narratives; yet at pivotal moments he uses a more traditional, tonal, almost Romantic expression.

The string quartet Madhares, for example, exhibits violent, expressionist gestures but ends with a sunny folk song. Like many composers today he attempts to reconcile a modernist aesthetic with an older musical heritage, creating a fascinating mix.

Occasionally there are problems, however, primarily due to the astonishing quality of Larcher’s modernist experiments which excite and engage the listener more than his ruminations on tradition.

The ear is fascinated to such a great degree by coins on the strings, or the prepared piano, that it is almost a disappointment to hear the edginess disappear and tonal reference return. 

That being said, these relatively minor gripes do not tarnish the quality of this music. Böse Zellen, in particular, is a truly original work, vigorously performed and captured in flawless sound.

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Here, Larcher’s Romanticism works as a dramatic unmasking of the piano: the foreign objects that dulled the instrument are ripped out to reveal its full expressive potential. Neil Smith