Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
What began as an idea for a song cycle--a voice/piano setting of Rainer Maria Rilke's prose-poem Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke--evolved into an extended piece for contralto and chamber orchestra, a nearly hour-long tour-de-force that demands much of the singer while creating a rare, other-world atmosphere that at once envelops the listener and illuminates Rilke's strange, affecting tale, where violence and death are always nearby, but where simple pleasures and tender moments are cherished and respectfully shared.
Frank Martin describes his initial reluctance to work with the "untranslatable"
German text (not Martin's first language), whose "vivid impact" and "sheer magic" eventually won him over. Nevertheless, the text here appears only in German, and since the story is such an important factor in understanding and enjoying this beautiful work, it's additionally frustrating that not even the vaguest synopsis is provided. However, with a little determination the non-German speaker/reader can locate the sought-after synopsis, along with translations of the text, which is divided into 23 sections with titles such as "Der Schrei" (The scream), "Rast" (Rest), "Ist das der Morgen?" (Is this the morning?), "Jemand erzählt von seiner Mutter" (Someone is talking of his mother), "Der Brief" (The letter), and "Der Tod" (Death).
The story ("the song of the love and death of cornet Christoph Rilke") is based on a real person, Cornet Rilke of Langenau (referred to as von Langenau in the poem, and apparently not related to the poet), a standard-bearer in an Austrian horse regiment in the 17th century. At the poem's end he dies in battle ("the sixteen curved sabers that dance toward him, gleam for gleam, are a bright festivity...").
The rich language and the vivid imagery of Rilke's poem certainly seemed to inspire Martin, the "untranslatable" German proving a perfect vehicle for his unclassifiable mixture of 12-tone concepts with aspects of Debussian and late-Romantic harmonic ideas. Much of this score could be described as the Debussy of Pelleas crossed with Schoenberg--from Verklärte Nacht to (in the work's more agitated passages) A Survivor from Warsaw. Twelve-tone techniques emerge then retreat into more traditional structures; easily recognizable, unifying melodic/harmonic thematic devices appear and reappear throughout. Martin uses his orchestra--strings, a few winds, harp, celesta, piano, percussion--with imaginative economy, crafting a special sound for each section with different instrumental combinations.
Contralto Christianne Stotijn is nothing less than magnificent, eloquently, tirelessly, convincingly capturing the varying moods and rendering the several sudden violent outbursts with frightening effect. And as for that notorious German text--she sings it with remarkable clarity while never forgetting to convey the underlying emotion or describe the poignant moment. From the eerie, out-of-the-mist solo-voice opening ("Reiten, reiten, reiten...") to the big Straussian climax at the moment of the soldier's death, this is a throughly engrossing, enchanting, unforgettable listening experience that leaves you wondering why this masterpiece isn't more widely known. And when combined with MDG's state-of-the-art sound (in 5.1 surround and 2+2+2 multichannel), it's a shoo-in for best-of-the-year lists, in several categories. Apparently during Rilke's lifetime (d. 1926) there were a zillion different musical settings of this poem, all of which he hated. Too bad he never heard this one.
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
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