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July 25 , 2011

Reviews of the Week

“They say the cello can pull at the heartstrings because it's the instrument closest to the human voice, but you should hear what Heinz Holliger can do with an oboe,” says Tom Huizenga of NPR Classical, US National Public Radio. “On his new album (released on ECM), Holliger makes his instrument sing with such profound beauty — both sweetly and sadly — that your heartstrings can feel not just pulled but yanked completely out. Part of it has to do with the Swiss oboist's opulent tone, still pure and distinctive after more than five decades, and the other key component is J.S. Bach, whose music is the focus of the album. Bach often granted the oboe some of his most ravishing, most soul-searching solos in his vocal and instrumental pieces. The album's opening, title track, "Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis" is the grief-stricken beginning to Bach's Cantata BWV 21, which he wrote with the death of one of his favorite students fresh in mind. The piece provides a similar catharsis for Holliger, who dedicates the album to the memory of his brother and a friend, who each died shortly before the recording sessions were finished. You can hear the pain unfold in the oboe's long-breathed sighs of anguish. Its serpentine melody intertwines with the solo violin of Erich Höbarth (who also conducts the satisfying Camerata Bern) and the two play out over a steady heartbeat rhythm like singers in deep lament. Along with what Holliger calls the "miraculous wealth" of solo parts for oboe in Bach's cantatas and orchestral works are the "lost" concertos he wrote for the instrument. They haven't survived in their original forms, but because the composer recycled them as harpsichord concertos, scholars have been able to craft credible reconstructions. The best known of these is the double concerto for oboe and violin, BWV 1060, in which Holliger and Höbarth wind gorgeously phrased melodies around each other in the Adagio. There's also another oboe concerto, the high-spirited Concerto for Oboe d'amore and even Alessandro Marcello's Oboe Concerto (which Bach turned into a harpsichord concerto) with its sepulchral slow movement.. Holliger's fans will recognize these concertos as ones he's previously recorded, some twice. But now the 72-year-old oboist, conductor and composer has the advantage of age — the experience of life's joys and sorrows, all of which he pours into this sublime music.”

German weekly Die Zeit devotes a full page article to the end of an era, as Gidon Kremer announces his departure from the meanwhile legendary Lockenhaus Chamber Music Festival after 30 years. As well as introducing numerous young musicians to an enthusiastic public, the festival generated its own special atmosphere of musical creativity and spontaneity: Lockenhauus “quickly became famous,” as Volker Hagedorn notes, “ also through recordings, which ECM has now gathered together in a five CD anthology.”

“Re: ECM” by Ricardo Villalobos and Max Loderbauer continues to attract a great deal of attention in both printed media and online. From signandsight.com’s writer Alexis Waltz: “With ‘Re: ECM’ both musicians are departing from the stylistic spectrum of electronic music for the first time. Villalobos: ‘You learn your whole life from ECM and its sound quality, When you do something for them, the entire information from all ECM albums you have ever heard up to that point flows into the production’… Loderbauer and Villalobos are so enthusiastic about ECM’s sound because of its broad frequency spectrum, three dimensional depth and tonal dynamic…This audiophile approach also entails a certain ethic: for Villalobos only such acoustic attention to detail can ensure openness to the sounds of foreign cultures. Villalobos and Loderbauer insert unsettling electronic tones into the loops of ECM sounds. The bewitchingly beautiful harp of the Christian Wallumrød Ensemble is mirrored in sequences that play out in strange ellipses. Like in free jazz, Villalobos and Loderbauer break down individual patterns into sounds.”