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Wolfgang RIHM (b. 1952)
Improvisation IV (ohne Titel) [3:49]
Präludium und Fuge Nr. 2 [14:51]
Improvisation II (ohne Titel) [12:44]
O Du mein Volk, was tat ich Dir [4:24]
Improvisation V (ohne Titel) [5:15]
Improvisation III (ohne Titel) [3:49]
Variationen über ein Barock-Thema [15:52]
Improvisation VI (ohne Titel) [3:34]
Toccata über B-A-C-H [6:04]
Wolfgang Rihm (organ)
rec. ca. 1970, Pfarrkirche St. Peter und Paul, Karlsruhe-Durlach
CYBELE RECORD SACD H061805 [70:22]

This recording comes from a period early in Wolfgang Rihm’s career from around 1966-70 when, armed with the key to the church, he would play late into the night. “The organ was my orchestra… [and] always had something enjoyable for me, something totally wild.” These recordings were made by Rihm himself on 19cm or 7.5 inch/s mono tape and were preserved in the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel. They total around 2 hours of material, and the remaining improvisations are included on Cybele’s Artists in Conversation edition, KiG 012.

Sometimes with Rihm’s voice announcing the title of the piece to be played, there are inevitably some limitations to the recordings, with some registers emerging from the far distance, while others closest to the microphone leap out of the texture. The organ is however a fine one, the 1965 Wolfgang Scherpf organ at the Catholic parish church of St. Peter and Paul in Karlsruhe-Durlach. Rihm is by all accounts a precocious performer. Despite disclaimers about his “organ doodling” being “a bunch of chaotic improvisation” there is a good deal of inventiveness and structural coherence to go along with the kind of indulgently gothic grandeur that generates the ecstatic climax of the Prelude and Fugue No. 2.

These tracks are fascinating for anyone interested in Rihm’s early organ works as there is a clear relationship between the free-fantasia forms in both the written and these improvised pieces. The harmonic style ranges from Reger-like chromaticism to intriguing forays into earlier musical idioms. Baroque with a hint of Medieval can be heard in O Du mein Volk, was tat ich Dir, and the Variations on a Baroque Theme explores the famous La Follia ostinato, taking it on all kinds of flights of fancy. The climax in this genre is the virtuoso Toccata on B-A-C-H that concludes the programme.

The numbered improvisations certainly have atmosphere and power. Improvisation V works on contrasts between secretive murmurings and extremes of dynamic, Improvisation III is rich with Catholic mystery, as is Improvisation II, a piece that builds in energy to take on rapid machine-like repetitions in its clustered chords.

This is the first of a new Historic Audio series from Cybele, and while the booklet and presentation has the usual glossy and well-documented Cybele look, the disc is finished like a mini LP record. Is there any value in turning old mono analogue tapes into a SACD production? In this particular case you gain a subtle depth and sweetness to the sound without artificial effects, and at least we have the confidence that the original signal is being extracted to the best of its potential.

Dominy Clements

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