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Bernd Alois ZIMMERMANN (1918-1970)
Complete Piano Music
Drei frühe Klavierstücke (1939-46) [8.31]
Extemporale (1946) [14.05]
Capriccio (1946) [11.25]
Enchiridion I (1949) [15.48]
Enchiridion –Anhang [3.25]
Enchiridion II (Exerzitien) [9.49]
Konfigurationen (1956) [9.16]
Eduardo Fernández (piano)
rec. 2019, Teldex Studio, Berlin
BIS BIS2495 SACD [74.02]

If you know any music by Bernd Alois Zimmermann then most of the pieces on this CD will come as something of a surprise. I refer to perhaps Die Soldaten (1960) one of the most violent and disturbing operas I’ve ever seen and the dark nihilism of the Requiem for a Young Poet (1969) or the complexities of Antiphonen (1961) for viola and 25 strings.

The above dates for these piano pieces tell you that these little known works date from when Zimmermann was aged between 21 to 38. His major works lay ahead of him. The recording however presents the music, helpfully, in chronological order and the booklet notes do the same beginning with Drei frühe Klavierstücke, student works of great charm and some interest. The opening ‘Scherzettino’ seems almost childlike at times, the elegant ‘Intermezzo’ rather wistful and the fugato rather Hindemithian but each has moments of emotional instability, which gives them something original and personal to add to the overall structure.

Extemporale is a series of five Impromptus and are also student works, which are almost neo-classical. The open ‘Präludium’ leads into quite a Bacchian ‘Invention’ there is a melodious ‘Siciliano’ followed by a very Spanish ‘Bolero’ with its repeated bass ostinato. The finale however is almost atonal and seems to point to the pieces that he composed after the war.

Serial technique was almost ‘de rigeur’ by 1946 and Zimmermann composed his Capriccio that year which is really a Fantasia with vivid variations based on about ten German, children’s songs. Its mood varies violently at times and there is some bi-tonality but largely the piece is humorous and ingenious and it well worth searching out the score published by Peters.

There are three sets of pieces entitled Enchiridion, a Greek word meaning ‘handbook’ these are didactic and for quite advanced piano students. The 1st set begins with a mysterious Introduction with other movements including a quite perky, short ‘Rondino’ and quite Stravinskian ‘Bourée’, note the neo-classical element again and later a rather Bartokian ‘Estampida’. Already we are moving towards a more modernistic world. Enchiridion-Anhang consists of just three witty, tiny pieces one in homage to Johann Strauss and another to Debussy entitled ‘L’après-midi d’un puck’. Zimmerman felt deeply indebted to the music of both Debussy and Stravinsky without ever imitating them.

Eduardo Fernández has captured these early works with utter conviction, aided by the beautiful piano tone, but we now move into a somewhat different world with Enchiridion II, these being called ‘Exercises’ include more abstract titles like ‘Vigil’ and ‘Imagination’ and inhabit a more atonal, Webernesque and pointillistic world, highly illusive and colourfully using the entire keyboard in a much more virtuoso style.

Although the eight, aphoristic and cellular pieces, which make up Konfigurationen date from 1956, Jenny Römmer in her excellent booklet essay, which takes us through Zimmermann’s life and piano music logically, tells us that he had been working on them for seventeen years. A few bars are illustrated on the extraordinarily slim cardboard disc casing. They show that serial technique and the pointillism of Schoenberg and Webern are fully focused in the composer’s imagination and language by this time. It’s a fascinating piece but for me much less original than, say, the Capriccio. Perhaps Zimmermann felt so too and that he had nowhere else to go in the composition of piano music, as so he never wrote for it again.

Zimmermann was a complex man, as can be clearly demonstrated by hearing any of his music. Deeply religious but also sceptical, a philosopher but also naïf, a monk but also deeply earthbound. Unable to come to terms with the evils he felt he saw around him it all got too much to bear and he took his own life on August 10, 1970.

Gary Higginson

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