Writing of Thomas Larcher’s ECM release Naunz in 2001, Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich observed that the Austrian composer’s musical textures “rely on the enormous expansion and compression of time, working with almost cinematic montage techniques, with cross-cuts, with rhythmic spans both long-arching and brief, with precisely calculated intensification and internal structuring. There is no question: Larcher’s music is clearly and securely shaped and radiates intellectual control”. Complexity and clarity are not opposites in Larcher’s sound-world as this new disc, with chamber music written between 1990 and 2004, evidences.
The programme, comprised of four world premiere recordings, is framed by two big string quartets, Ixxu and Cold Farmer, vividly performed by the Munich-based Rosamunde Quartet, whose New Series recordings have traversed an exceptionally wide range of musics (from Haydn to Saluzzi, from Webern to Mansurian, from Burian to Silvestrov). My Illness Is The Medicine I Need marks the ECM debut of the young Amrican soprano Andrea Lauren Brown and a rare recorded appearance of Christoph Poppen as violinist, the first since his collaboration with the Hilliard Ensemble since the Bach album Morimur. The cellist, Thomas Demenga, Larcher’s longstanding musical comrade-in-arms also plays Mumien with the composer himself at the piano.
“I write for ‘classical’ musicians who like being challenged”, Larcher says. In his pieces, notions of virtuosity are pursued to the brink of obsession, raising the expressive energy another notch in degree and intensity. Andreas Reiner, the Rosamunde’s first violinist, speaks of “hair-raising difficulties” in the realisation of these works – “masterpieces of the contemporary quartet repertoire” – as well as the insights to be gained in playing them for a composer who is also “one of us” (as a very active concert pianist, Larcher fully understands the rigours of interpretation). “When Larcher rehearses with us, his pragmatic and, in view of the extreme individual and collective demands, understanding manner helps us a lot.” Yet even if the music calls for utmost precision and physical commitment from the performers, it is never impenetrable for the listener. These pieces are physical and direct, electrically charged, clearly articulated, transparent in sound, deeply emotional.
Politics and everyday culture serve as direct sources of inspiration for Larcher's music. (As was already apparent in the Naunz album, where Vier Seiten, for cello, reflected the deadly crash of the Formula-One driver Ayrton Senna and its extremely slow-motion replay in the media). My Illness is based on statements by mental patients, reproduced in Benetton’s magazine Colors. “I fished out the sayings that were less explicit, statements that any of us may have thought in one form or another”, Larcher explains. “I usually have a fairly hard time with lyric poetry. The more polished and flawless the poem, the less room remains for music. But here the words function like a magnet, pulling the music into alignment.”
“My roots lie in performance”, Larcher emphasises, “and in decades of imprinting through the music and formal ideas of the classics. My music is communicative: it challenges the attentive listener but is meant to be readily intelligible in concert. That is what forms the basis of the timing in these pieces, their dramatic structure and formal design. I want to build a novel and original edifice of maximum clarity using traditional building-blocks. I'm not interested in using shock techniques to flaunt the novelty of my architecture. I want to arrange and enhance the elements so as to produce new expressive values.”
Besides the legacy of tradition, Larcher's music has also absorbed a wide range of stimuli from contemporary music, especially from the United States, Eastern Europe and Russia. Such impulses are invariably integrated in unusual contexts, placed in exciting juxtaposition and driven to emotional extremes.
Larcher is an acclaimed performer who has also drawn praise for his illuminating programming (witness his Schubert and Schoenberg recital on ECM New Series 1667), however, recently, he has had to cut back on his solo activities to devote himself to a growing number of composing commitments.
Thomas Larcher was born in Innsbruck in 1963. After studying piano and composition in Vienna he became a freelance pianist, composer and festival director. He has appeared as a soloist with leading European orchestras and played under such conductors as Claudio Abbado, Dennis Russell Davies, Michael Gielen, Heinz Holliger and Franz Welser-Möst. In November 2006 he will give the premiere of a new piano concerto by Erkki-Sven Tüür in Frankfurt am Main. His more recent works include a concerto for piano and chamber orchestra, a cello concerto (Hier/Heute), and a trio for clarinet, cello and piano that will receive its premiere in August 2006 at the Mondsee Festival, Austria, where Larcher is currently composer in residence. In September he will assume the same position at the Oxford Chamber Music Festival. Larcher's music is published by Schott. He has made a number of recordings for the ECM New Series. His debut album as a composer, Naunz (ECM New Series 1747), drew international acclaim. He has also presented a solo recital of piano pieces by Schubert and Schoenberg (ECM New Series 1667) and has appeared in recitals with the violinist Michelle Makarski and the cellist Thomas Demenga. Further information can be found at www.vanwalsum.com
Founded in Munich in 1991, the Rosamunde Quartet gave their highly acclaimed debut the following year at the Berlin Festival. Besides the classical quartet literature, a central focus of their repertoire falls on contemporary music. Their recording of Silvestrov compositions for ECM (leggiero, pesante) received a Grammy nomination. Their collaboration with the Argentinean bandoneon virtuoso Dino Saluzzi met with special interest from press and public alike, giving rise to the album Kultrum (1998). Their most recent ECM release contains string quartets by the Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian.
The soprano Andrea Lauren Brown was born in Wilmington, Delaware, and studied with Grace Bumbry and Elio Battaglia at the Salzburg Mozarteum. In 2003 she won a second prize at the Munich Competition. Early music forms a central focus of her repertoire. She has issued recordings with Harmonia Mundi and other labels.
Thomas Demenga was born in Berne in 1954 and studied with Antonio Janigro, Leonard Rose and Mstislav Rostropovich. He has held a professorship at the Basle Musikhochschule since 1980. In 2000 he was appointed artistic director of the Young Artists in Concert Festival in Davos. Demenga takes a keen interest in contemporary music and has given the premieres of many important new works. He has recorded for ECM since the 1980s, most recently issuing a programme of short pieces from Bach to Webern under the title Chonguri.
Christoph Poppen was born in Münster in 1956 and studied with Oskar Schumsky, among others. He won several violin competitions and founded the Cherubini Quartet in 1978. He also served as director of the Hanns Eisler Musikhochschule in Berlin and artistic director of the Munich Competition. From 1995 to 2006 he was the principal conductor of the Munich Chamber Orchestra, with which he made many recordings for the ECM New Series label, most recently Natura Renovatur with works by Giacinto Scelsi. In summer 2006 he will assume his new position as principal conductor of the Saarland Radio Symphony Orchestra. His collaboration with the Hilliard Ensemble on the Bach album Morimur drew international acclaim.
The CD box contains a 20-page illustrated booklet with introductions by Thomas Larcher (German/English) and an essay by Paul Griffiths (English).