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Rihm: Sotto Voce / Arditti String Quartet

Release Date: 09/08/2009 
Label:  Kairos   Catalog #: 12952   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Wolfgang Rihm
Performer:  Nicolas Hodges
Conductor:  Jonathan NottJohn Axelrod
Orchestra/Ensemble:  AML Lucerne Symphony OrchestraArditti String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

RIHM CONCERTO (Dithyrambe). 1 Sotto voce (Notturno). 2 Sotto voce II (Capriccio) 2 Jonathan Nott, cond; 1 John Axelrod, cond; 2 Arditti Str Qrt; 1 Nicolas Hodges (pn); 2 Lucerne SO Read more class="BULLET12b">• KAIROS 12952 (54:31)

This fine disc features three works for soloists with orchestra by one of the world’s finest and most prolific composers. There was a time not long ago when Wolfgang Rihm was considered rather conservative among many in avant-garde circles in Europe, but the view of his place in the musical pantheon has broadened somewhat. True, he isn’t an alchemist of color in the manner of Lachenmann or Manoury, but his harmonic and textural palettes roam freely, and architecture is often difficult to discern. Sadly, his music has long been considered quite radical and off-putting by most American concertgoers in those rare events at which his music is programmed. There is much here to paint a picture of a restless artist, one not appreciative of pigeonholing, and not merely because that has been a fashionable point of denial for decades now. The musical vocabulary varies substantially in these three works, especially considering that the genres are similar and there is less than a decade separating them.

In CONCERTO (Dithyrambe) , the four strings are used mostly for their percussive abilities, although there are frankly few possible timbral devices not employed. It is a work of unrelenting turbulence, scarcely relieved dissonance, and densely wrought agitation. While most of the forces are kept busy much of the time, sometimes the quartet is thinly accompanied, left to scurry about in unpredictable directions. More often than not, the four are a component of the larger ensemble rather than a group of soloists to be spotlighted. They dart about in every conceivable register, only occasionally moving in tandem. The composer describes the quartet in his work as “a creature with four mouths—yes, with four heads and four mouths, a beast!” This is not easy listening, and it’s no small feat for the listener to stay focused on such unceasing activity for a single movement of 26 minutes. There is finally a bit of an unwinding in the last couple of minutes, like a spinning top finally winding down. Careful listening will be amply rewarded, however, if for no other reason than to gasp at the extraordinary virtuosity of the Arditti String Quartet.

The superficial differences of the piano concerto, Sotto voce (Notturno ), with the earlier piece are striking. It unfolds patiently, with fairly slender textures, placing the piano in more of a center-stage position (although virtuoso passages are rare), and casually disperses brief allusions to Western musical traditions. There is a fluidity of style that is both seductive and off-putting, like viewing familiar visual images through a lens with unpredictable curves and fissures. Just when one thinks that the concerto has been rethought in every conceivable way, Rihm finds still another workable permutation. This piece was conceived as an invitation by Daniel Barenboim for a work to fit into a Mozart festival, and Rihm filled the prescription with only intermittent and vague references to the older composer, yet never for more than a moment leaving behind his own voice and historical era.

Sotto voce II (Capriccio) is an extension of the earlier work, with quicker movement, yet a similar dialogue of eras. Though lively, there is a diaphanous quality that is as attractive as it is atypical of Rihm. While it would never be confused with Mozart, here and there a stereotypical cadential figure or anticipatory trill will peak through the texture. Moments of foreboding are not altogether absent, but when they do sneak through, they dissipate with little effort. The Luzerner Sinfonieorchester plays superbly, and the recording is finely accomplished with concert hall realism.

FANFARE: Michael Cameron
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Works on This Recording

Dithyrambe by Wolfgang Rihm
Conductor:  Jonathan Nott
Orchestra/Ensemble:  AML Lucerne Symphony Orchestra,  Arditti String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 25 Minutes 45 Secs. 
Sotto voce 1 by Wolfgang Rihm
Performer:  Nicolas Hodges (Piano)
Conductor:  John Axelrod
Orchestra/Ensemble:  AML Lucerne Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 17 Minutes 42 Secs. 
Sotto voce 2 by Wolfgang Rihm
Performer:  Nicolas Hodges (Piano)
Conductor:  John Axelrod
Orchestra/Ensemble:  AML Lucerne Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 11 Minutes 2 Secs. 

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