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Friday, February 3, 2017

Bernd Alois Zimmermann, sinfonie in einem satz (1. fassung), WDR Sinfonieorchester Koln, Peter Hirsch

Bernd Alois Zimmermann (1918-1970) was a high modernist of great scope and invention, a leading light of Post WWII Germany, and an adventurer who was not afraid to mix his music with avant jazz, a decidedly "impure" voice who did not always stick to the modernist script, and a composer who by now is virtually forgotten in the States.

Now that Wergo is widely distributed here again we can get another good look at Zimmermann in a fine release from Peter Hirsch and the WDR Sinfonieorchester Koln, centered around his Sinfonie in einem Satz (1. Fassung) (Wergo 7340 2).

The Symphony in its original version was composed in 1951 and given its premiere in 1952. It was harshly criticized by critics and later completely revised, but not without, in the words of Peter Hirsch, "[sacrificing]  many of the essential qualities of the original version...qualities of sound and structure that were apparently ahead of their time in 1952." The original version was ignored for decades. Hirsch here gives us its world premier recording and a highly expressive blockbuster it is. The revisions made even before the original performance are bypassed via a return to the original score, and one hears and feels the rightness of the truly first version throughout.

Hirsch notes in the liners that the entire program is meant to illustrate Zimmermann's "conception of music as the ultimate 'art of time,' in which different temporal layers permeate each other, preserving a sense of historical reference."

Indeed, along with this essential work we get a fine earful of Zimmerman's early and "pluralist" later music, where tonality and atonality rub shoulders, the modern interpenetrates allusions and direct quotations of Wagner, Mussorgsky, and in "Musique pour les soupers du roi ubu" (1966) dances of the 16th and 17th centuries. The collage-montage aspect of his pluralist approach was anathema to many at the time. Now it is "postmodern" and we feel at home in the flow of time it evokes and instantiates. But most importantly a sense of "rightness" pervades. It all sounds fresh.

So we appreciate the "giostra genovese" (1962), and the "konzert fur streichorchester" (1948), as Zimmermann's pioneering but also completely captivating modernist take, with or without appropriations.

Whether or not you know Zimmermann's music, these are some landmark works, well performed. which give you a more complicated picture of what he was about.


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