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Wolfgang RIHM (b. 1952)
Das Gehege, scene for soprano and orchestra (2004/05) [35:54]
Jean-Pascal BEINTUS (b. 1966)
Le Petit Prince, Concert suite for violin, harp and chamber orchestra (2006) [17:33]
Rayanne Dupuis (soprano), Eva-Christina Schönweiss (violin), Kirsten Ecke (harp), Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin / Kent Nagano
rec. 2011, Großer Sendesaal, Haus des Rundfunks, RBB, Berlin
CAPRICCIO C5337 [53:43]

Of all the CDs I received to review this month, this was the one I listened to first, yet it is the one I am reviewing last. It is not that it is difficult music to listen to, it is rather that this is the disc that I have listened to as I reviewed most of the others. I have enjoyed this disc greatly and whilst I am no expert on the music of Wolfgang Rihm, I do have a growing collection to which I am more than happy to add this disc. In contrast, whilst the name Jean-Pascal Beintus is not unknown to me, this disc is the first recording containing some of his music that I now own, and I am impressed with what I hear.

When discussing dramatic works for a single voice and orchestra the two works that automatically spring to mind are Arnold Schonberg’s Erwartung and Francis Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine, which treat the voice in in contrasting and sometimes harrowing manners; now to that short list we can add Wolfgang Rihm’s nocturnal scene for soprano and orchestra, Das Gehege, which again treats the voice differently to the other two.

Das Gehege, or ‘The Enclosure’, was commissioned by Kent Nagano to be performed prior to a new production of Richard Strauss’ Salome and, wanting something that contained the same sense of drama and horror of Oscar Wilde’s play, Rihm decided to set the final scene of Botho Strauß’s Schlusschor, a play that deals with the events surrounding German reunification. The work, which is in essence a one act opera, revolves around The Woman, who is identified as Anita in the play, who during the night of the fall of the Berlin Wall, enters West Berlin’s Zoo with the aim “to unite physically” with and then to free a Golden Eagle. After the eagle ignores her propositions, she loses her temper with the bird and kills it, with the final scene showing her holding the dismembered claw of the eagle whilst covered in the bird’s blood and feathers. This could be a metaphor for West Germany’s dominance over the East, with the Eagle seen as the sign of a unified Germany.

A harrowing story indeed, one which I am glad to say is adeptly set to music by Wolfgang Rihm, he shows a real affinity with the drama of the text and produces equally chilling music. While closer to Erwartung than La Voix Humaine, it is for me the music of Alban Berg and especially the impressionism of his unfinished masterpiece, Lulu, that more readily springs to mind. The tension and angst of the play is brought out well in Rihm’s music and is heightened by the singing of Rayanne Dupuis. Dupuis seems the ideal singer for this role, her voice is wonderfully dramatic and characterful, and she is able to display all the emotions that this role demands, colouring her voice to great effect.

The angst of Das Gehege is countered by Le Petit Prince by Jean-Pascal Beintus, a concert suite for violin, harp and chamber orchestra which brings to mind the sound world of Ravel and is another Kent Nagano commission. The musical scenario is based upon Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s best-selling book Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) a world-wide success having sold over 140 million copies since it was published in 1943. The book is narrated by the pilot who crashes his plain in the Sahara where he unexpectedly meets a young golden-haired boy who he gives the nickname of the Little Prince. The music follows the story well with a series of ten short pieces depicting scenes from the story.

The work is scored for solo violin and harp, and there are passages where they seem to be in conversation with each other as well as the chamber orchestra. It is this which, for me, makes the work reminiscent of Maurice Ravel and especially the ‘Introduction et allegro pour harpe, flûte, clarinette et quatuor’, a work composed one hundred and one years before Beintus’ score for Le Petit Prince with its interplay between the soloists, Eva-Christina Schönweiss and Kirsten Ecke, and the orchestra being quite beautiful. There is also some rhapsodic writing for the solo violin which again brings to mind the music of Ravel, this time it is the wonderfully evocative violin writing of Tzigane that springs to mind.

I enjoyed both works greatly, but Le Petit Prince does seem a little out of place when compared with the more aggressive and dramatic writing of Das Gehege. However, with both works having been commissioned by Kent Nagano for his Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and completed within a year of each other, I suppose they are good bedfellows. This is a well- executed disc with all soloists and the orchestra being in excellent form; Kent Nagano keeps the orchestra on a tight rein, especially in Das Gehege, with the results being an expert ramping up of the tension of the work. The sound is very good whilst the booklet notes are informative, the only drawback being a lack of translation of the sung German text.

Stuart Sillitoe

Previous review: Michael Cookson

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