Notes and Editorial Reviews
Die Tränen des Gletschers.
Nuages Immortels oder Focusing on Solos (Medea in Avignon
Michael Gielen, Carmen-Maria Cârneci, Tobias Wahren, cond;
SWR SO Baden-Baden und Freibrug
TELOS 128 (62:42)
So how have I not heard before of Rolf Riehm (b.1937)? These three orchestral works are the product of a strong artist who truly knows his own mind.
The music is what I’d call “knowing primitivsm.” It can be barren or excessive, but it is always direct, indeed, in-your-face. At times unforeseen, even shocking things occur (like a sudden fury of whip-snapping, and other percussive noises, even some which might be thought rude). There’s a sense of the absurd, of life yanking one from extreme to extreme without mercy. There’s righteous anger and at the same time a deep guffaw of black humor.
Die Tränen des Gletschers
(1998) translates as “The Tears of Glaciers.” It’s almost exclusively two-part counterpoint between orchestral megalines, lumbering and butting up against one another.
Nuages Immortels oder Focusing on Solos (Medea in Avignon)
(2001) may win a prize for most elaborate and confounding title. It’s 20-plus minutes of stark motives and dark chorales, and projects a more romantic sensibility, though never with anything sweet or sentimental. Berceuse (1984–85), despite a derivation from Chopin’s eponymous piece, is anything but. It’s a postmodern carnival, a parade of grotesques that requires three conductors, and makes me think of the decadent 1920s scenes painted by Beckmann and Grosz.
Based only on this selection, it would not surprise me if Riehm is considered an outsider within the German new-music scene. He has an interest in noise similar to Helmut Lachenmann, but it seems less theoretical and abstract, more Expressionist and symbolic. The music can be even a little embarrassing in its directness and deliberate vulgarity. It seems to represent a very idiosyncratic mythology/cosmology.
Another composer I am reminded of is Giya Kancheli, though Riehm’s music has none of his rarefied nostalgia or hyper-tenderness. But the sense of a raw, deeply personal worldview that causes great ruptures and contrasts to occur is a similarity between the two. Some of the bloom is off my feelings for Kancheli, after initial enthusiasm, and it might also turn out to be the case here. Time will tell; for the moment, though, I am exhilarated by the sheer gall of this music. To mention another painter, it’s a bit like your first encounter with Dubuffet.
Great performances. I feel the music I’m hearing is what the composer has heard in his head.
FANFARE: Robert Carl
Works on This Recording
Berceuse, for orchestra by Rolf Riehm
Carmen Maria Carneci,
Date of Recording: 10/14/1989
Venue: Baden-Baden, Hans-Rosbaud-Studio
Length: 19 Minutes 38 Secs.
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