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Kagel: Das Konzert, Phantasiestuck, Pan / Michael Faust

Kagel / Faust / Alvares / Sinfonia Finlandia
Release Date: 04/24/2012 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572635   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Mauricio Kagel
Performer:  Michael FaustPaulo Alvares
Conductor:  Patrick Gallois
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble ContrastsSinfonia Finlandia
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

KAGEL Das Konzert. 1 Phantasiestück 2. Pan. 4 Phantasiestück 2,3 Michael Faust (fl, picc); 1 Patrick Galois, cond; Sinfonia Finlandia Juväskylä; 2 Paulo Álvares (pn); 3 Robert H. P. Platz, cond; Read more Contrasts Ens 4 NAXOS 8.572635 (65:44)

I’ve reviewed several releases over the years by Mauricio Kagel (1931–2008), and I’ve found him to be a consistently imaginative and surprising composer, even if the music has never totally bowled me over. Kagel is most known for the way he explored the inherent theatricality of classical performance, a fact often (and fervently) denied by purists, but one that exists with its own set of rituals and codes nonetheless. He was also a determined explorer of eclecticism and interpretations of earlier repertoire in a modern context. As such, he was from almost the outset of his career a perfectly postmodern composer. It’s actually amazing to me that he was allowed so much leeway and given so much recognition within the postwar avant-garde (but then Xenakis and Ligeti also violated a lot of modernist sacred norms and only grew in stature, suggesting the movement was always far more diverse and tangled than the capsule histories suggest).

This collection is of works for flute, in a variety of different ensemble formations. Das Konzert (2001–02) is a concerto of sorts; Pan (1985) is for piccolo and string quartet; Phantasiestück (1987–88) is in two versions, for flute and piano, and for flute with piano and chamber ensemble.

I am most drawn to Pan and Phantasiestück in its duo version. The former is a little riff/romp on Papageno’s music from De Zauberflöte , and infectious in its wit and concision (and of course the soloist plays piccolo). The latter is (like much of Kagel’s music) a stream-of-consciousness flow from one idea to another, but one feels his sense of invention being strongly stimulated at every juncture. I particularly like the passage centered on the flute’s percussive breath attacks, and there’s a bittersweet little waltz that (even though the piece is an homage to Schumann) sounds like something from Schoenberg’s cabaret songs. The ensemble version seems to follow Berio’s model in his Chemins , where an existing work has an additional layer of accompaniment wrapped around it. I don’t find it adds a lot to the piece, as the ensemble seems used mostly for underlining certain key elements of the music, and is often notable as much for its absence as presence. Das Konzert again has moments of crazy invention, but overall I find it the least engaging, too long for its almost half-hour duration. Kagel had a maddening tendency to have an excellent concept for a motive/gesture/iconic sound, but then in the details it was never quite brilliant enough to transcend its function and stick with you in its own right ( Pan is an exception to this rule, though it has Mozart’s panpipe lick as a starting point).

So this is a mixed bag, but as always with Kagel, the music is fertile and tickles with its humor and sideways slant on classical tradition. The performances are excellent, and give the music everything it demands and deserves. And it’s not a bad introduction to Kagel for the uninitiated.

FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

Phantasiestück by Mauricio Kagel
Performer:  Michael Faust (Flute), Paulo Alvares (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1987-1988; Germany 
Pan by Mauricio Kagel
Performer:  Michael Faust (Piccolo), Paulo Alvares (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Contrasts
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1985; Germany 
Das Konzert by Mauricio Kagel
Performer:  Michael Faust (Flute)
Conductor:  Patrick Gallois
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sinfonia Finlandia
Phantasiestück by Mauricio Kagel
Performer:  Paulo Alvares (Piano), Michael Faust (Flute)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Contrasts
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1987-1988; Germany 

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