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Günther BECKER (1924-2007)
Vier Bagatellen (1954) [9:57]
Drei Phasen für Klavier (1965) [8:35]
Studie über einen Akkord (1970) [4:49]
Mikrografien 91973) [5:32]
Zeitspuren für zwei Klaviere (1987/88) [16:15]*
Benjamin Kobler (piano)
Laura Alvarez (piano)*
Günther Becker O-Töne (from conversations between Tilo Medek and G. Becker (1984), and Helmut Rohm abd G. Becker (1999)) [20:28]
Mirjam Weisemann in conversation with Ruth Becker [54:08]
Mirjam Weisemann in conversation with Rainer Peters [57:28]
Oskar Gottlieb Blarr reads his Gebeburtsdagbrief für Günther Becker from 1994 [6:40]
Reviewed in SACD stereo.
rec. 2010, Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Köln
CYBELE RECORDS KiG006 [3 SACDs: 183:55]

This sixth volume of Cybele’s ‘Artists in Conversation’ series takes on a composer whose name is still unlikely to be familiar to many, though Cybele has done sterling work in recording his complete organ works (reviews here and here, including a list of further Cybele releases of Becker’s work).

As with the rest of this series, this release serves to show more of the personality behind the music, and with Günther Becker there is an apparent disconnect between a character described by Rainer Peters as “polite, correct, with good manners…” contrasting with music that is uncompromisingly “full of attacks, aggression, noise components [that] gladly exceeded the limits of instrumental possibilities.”

This recording of Becker’s complete piano works starts with the Vier Bagatellen; amongst his earliest published pieces. Written while still a student of Wolfgang Fortner, the influence of his teacher is apparent in Becker’s use of twelve-tone techniques and an economy of means and transparency of texture that also echoes Webern. The Drei Phasen builds on these atonal foundations, but also draws on the new sets of frameworks being employed by composers in the 1960s, with elements of ad libitum performance in which the discretion of the player is permitted. Expression was however also an essential factor for Becker, and despite the abstract nature of the music in these pieces they define sculptural shapes and a rampant imagination and intellect that makes them imposing rather than aversive.

Fifteen years separates Studie über einen Akkord from its predecessor. Its name suggests its intention as a piece with pedagogical usefulness, though the score also demands improvisation from the performer. The chord in question is a six-note cluster which is explored from every viewpoint, and there is no hint of a ‘minimalist’ approach in this regard; with intense explosive and poetic contrasts delivering a thorough workout for performer and listener. The Mikrografien serve as a further extension of this line in their distillation of musical forms from just a few notes, with the added contraction of short duration making for a series of ‘events’ that have a life of their own.

The final piece and Becker’s last work for piano is Zeitspuren of ‘Tracks of Time’ for two pianos. There is extra-musical content for these pieces relating to the 40th anniversary of the founding of Israel, each of the four movements prefaced with a Biblical psalm. There are illustrative moments such as the vocal line toward the end of the second movement that emerge as something of a surprise after so much abstraction, and there can be little mistaking where “the souls of the wounded cry out” in the third, in which the strings of the piano are tortured with tuning forks and what sounds like plastic combs. The final movement, headed “Peace be upon Israel” is not without moments of foreboding, but concludes in relative but always restless tranquility.

As usual, the conversation recordings are in German, but presented in a way that is as clear and easy to follow as possible. Becker’s talks on his own life are introduced with concise titles by Mirjam Weisemann and each subject can easily be found through numerous access points. The conversation with Becker’s wife Ruth and musicologist Rainer Peters are similarly enlightening and very wide ranging. This release will not be everyone’s cup of tea but is never less than intellectually fascinating, and with Benjamin Kobler’s stupendous performances certainly provides as definitive piano collection for Günther Becker as I can imagine.

Dominy Clements



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