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Christoph DELZ - Composer & Interpreter (PGW)

1. DELZ In the Jungle; MUSSORGSKY Pictures at an Exhibition SWDR Orchestra/Kord; Christoph DELZ (piano)
FSM FCD 97 742 [59.48]

2. DELZ Sils; 1st Piano Concerto LISZT Three late piano pieces Christoph DELZ (piano) SWF Orch Baden-Baden/Matthias Bamert

FSM FCD 97 743 [53.33] (PGW)

3. DELZ Arbeitslieder; Piano Quartet; String Quartet Cologne Radio Choir Christoph DELZ (piano) etc
Grammont CTS-P 18-2 [51 mins]


These three CDs pass one of my chief tests, that of uniqueness & unrepeatablilty. Christoph Delz, Swiss born 1950, settled in Cologne 1974, and first grabbed my attention at a BBC Invitation Concert at the Maida Vale Studios in London, in which he played his quite extraordinary piano concerto, its second movement for prepared piano (like Cage's).

Delz was championed by BBC R3 (and also at the Almeida Festival) for a number of years, with regular broadcast performances from London of his major works, including the two given here. The last of these, at which I had been looking forward to meeting him once more, was given by the BBC Chorus in Knightsbridge, a few days after his untimely death (I wrote his obituary in The Independent).

Pianist on all these CDs, sometimes taking a surprisingly reticent role, Delz was in the tradition of composer-pianists, but an anti-romantic, as testified by his clear no-nonsense, ascetic accounts of personal choices to go with his own music. He chooses to play late Liszt (not the opulent, expansive composer of before) and gives an unvarnished presentation of the Mussorgsky Pictures (little pedal, suiting their originally austere palette), which however leaves no doubt of his pianistic skill and intelligence, the latter that of a composer rather than a career pianist.

In the Jungle for large symphony orchestra was the most complex of his works to be given in UK, two movements inspired by Rousseau (27 mins) - not simply illustrative; he despised realistic detail and explored instead 'stylistic tensions, contradictions, surprises'. Delz suggests animal noises with specially contrived instrumental effects - brass 'hissed glissandi' and 'sucking-in' sounds; for water, brushed bass drum and blowing a trombone slide filled with water, etc etc, these aimed at musical effectiveness not verisimilitude. The first part conjures up an exotic forest, and nothing at all like it is to be heard in music elsewhere - it is at an opposite pole to Messiaen's painstaking recording and transcription of exotic birds. The second quotes African folk music and alludes to a Rousseau painting 'with a dark-skinned flute player'. This required vocalisations, which seemed disconcerting to the BBC players before they were regularly used to jumping thought all imaginable modernist hoops.

The two-movement piano concerto is equally far from ordinary expectations of the genre. The first movement is palindromic & there is a second, orchestral piano playing a major part besides the composer-pianist at his keyboards. The orchestral part is based upon lapping waves in periodic organisation - string cluster glissandi and incorporating a number of unusual playing techniques for the orchestra. Delz moves to a partly (Cageian) prepared piano to begin the second movement, which is constructed in short, discontinuous 47 second sections, filmic in conception and dedicated to the memory of Luis Bunuel.

The Worksongs for soli, choir, piano and wind quintet (1984) draw on his study of work songs of European & extra-European cultures, with texts 'which will seem cynical to some'. In the Corn Grinding Song he quotes Liszt's Mephisto Waltz. His Piano Quartet 'forces the piano to the edge of the proceedings' in deliberate contrast with the 19 C. chamber music with piano (which he often played with his friends) 'which are often virtually piano concertos'. The String Quartet is a (just0 recognisable parody from Bach's E major violin partita, with pitch priorities reversed 'leaving only the rhythm to remind one of the famous original'. In each of these pieces Delz displays a quirky, disruptive personality, turning expectations on their heads.

These programmes are all impeccably recorded and presented. 'Let me hear how you play and I know what kind of music you write', suggests the commentator Josef Häusler in his thoughtful introduction to the second; the background to In the Jungle is supplied by the composer himself. Rousseau got no nearer to the tropical worlds he depicted than the hothouse in Paris; Delz 'in an old flat in Cologne', which was transforming itself under his eyes & ears into a building site, 'the banging & sawing evoking luxurious jungle landscapes, mingling with memories of Rousseau paintings'.

These CDs constitute a worthy memorial to the imagination and individuality of a unique creative personality and victim of the scourge of the 80s.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Obituary from the Independent September 1993


b.3 1 1950. d.13 9 1993

By the early death of Christoph DELZ we have suffered a profound loss of musical intelligence, personality and creativity. Captivated by his quirky 1st Piano Concerto, premiered by the pianist-composer on prepared piano at a BBC Invitation Concert in 1986, I have not missed an opportunity to hear each new addition to his relatively small output. This has been possible through the championship of BBC Radio 3 and the loyal partnership of the conductor of the BBC Singers, Simon Joly, latterly augmented by the recognition of the Swiss record company Grammont.

Born in Basel, Delz lived in Cologne from 1974-89, before returning to his native Switzerland. He studied with Aloys Kontarsky and Stockhausen during the '70s. Although the BBC, to their credit, has recognised his importance, and devoted an entire edition of Music in Our Time to ChristophDelz, his meticulously crafted scores, every one the realisation of a unique and idiosyncratic vision, remain unpublished. Delz was a shy and friendly man to meet, and he maintained artistic integrity which he refused to compromise, concentrating on composing slowly from inner compulsion, rather than courting commissions and publicity. It can only be because he lacked that streak of ruthlessness and entrepreneurial skills that he failed to find a publisher for his elegantly hand-written scores, which are a joy to study.

Delz's works have often a philosophical and literary basis, and draw too upon his own circumstances and inner life. His approach to choral writing is particularly individual, and can be traced through Worksongs (1984) through Solde -Lecture d'apres Lautreamont (1986) and the Joyce Fantasy (1991), a setting in English for soprano and speech-chorus, with two pianos and harmonium, of fragments from the Siren chapter of Ulysses, to his last, bravely moving work for the BBC Singers, Istanbul, which was premiered at St Paul's Church, Knightsbridge on 17th September, four days after the composer's death. This is a dramatic collage and complex meditation upon life's journey, setting extracts from Odysseus's epic journey to rejoin Penelope with texts in various languages, quoting Bach's chorale Who do we look to? and confronting the fearfulness of solitude before death.

Solde, for voices and a vast array of specially devised percussion equipment, was a hit at the 1989 Almeida Festival, the audience's enjoyment enhanced by seeing Simon Joly relish his dual role as conductor and accessory percussionist. The Maida Vale studio was the venue for a small invited audience to hear the only British performance to date of Delz's biggest orchestral score, In the Jungle: Homage to Rousseau the Customs Officer, conceived and composed in a Cologne flat against the invasive noise of builder's contractors at work outside. Apparently anarchic, but actually fully notated, this is a work for very large symphony orchestra, with saxophones, Wagner tubas and percussion which included lion's roar and (taped) chain-saw! Many unusual effects are achieved with scrupulous precision and there is a leanness and clarity in Delz's orchestration, which is very personal. This exuberant piece deserved a wider hearing and would have received a positive response from a Proms audience; perhaps the BBC might contemplate a revival as a memorial tribute?

There are 3 recommendable Grammont CDs of Delz as composer and pianist, CTS-P 18-2; FCD 97 742/743. In the first of these, there is a piano quartet in which the piano is "forced to the edge of proceedings, as opposed to corresponding works of the 18th & 19th centuries, which are often virtually piano concertos". On the same CD his string quartet is a parody of that genre and also of Bach's violin partita in E, with pitch reversals leaving rhythm alone to remind one of the famous original. These Grammont CDs, which include the 1st piano concerto, Worksongs and In the Jungle, offer a balanced conspectus of Christoph Delz's earlier development and an opportunity to hear him in Mussorgsky and late Liszt as well as in his own works.

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