Helmut Lachenmann (1935- ) is a composer who has been “on my radar” for some years now but, like a lot of names I get, I had yet to hear much of his music. Along comes Gregory Oakes from, of all places, Iowa. The Midwest in the United States doesn’t have much of a reputation for embracing the avant garde (though they actually do). So into the CD player goes this one and…wow, I really need to hear more Lachenmann and whoever this Oakes guy is I want to pay attention to what he is doing with that clarinet.
Admittedly this disc languished a bit before I heard it but I am now glad I did.
This disc consists of only three tracks comprising three works by this major German composer from three different periods in his career. Dal Niente (Interiur III), Trio Fluido, and Allegro Sostenuto.
Dal Niente (1970) is for solo clarinet and, as the title prescribes, the music is to be played as “from nothing” the meaning of the title. In fact this seems to be practically a textbook of extended techniques for the clarinet. But far from being a dull accounting of dry techniques, this is a tour de force which will challenge the skills of even the most experienced players. It is quite musical and listenable but the virtuosity will knock your socks off. Oakes pulls it off with a deceptive ease that demonstrates his rather profound knowledge of his instrument. It is easy to see the seeming cross pollination between the avant garde and free jazz here.
Next up is Trio Fluido (1966-68) which is a respectably avant garde trio for clarinet, viola, and percussion with Matthew Coley, percussion, and Jonathan Sturm, viola. Like the previous work this one is also about extended techniques (for all three instruments this time). This is a fine example of mid-twentieth century modernism and deserves a place in the repertoire. All three musicians are challenged to play their instruments in unconventional ways and the effect is almost like some of the electronic music of the era. It is a complex and pointillistic texture that has a strong and serious content.
Finally Allegro Sostenuto (1986-88) is another trio, this time for clarinet, cello, and piano. So while this work would make a fine companion work to the Brahms clarinet trio the work is unambiguously avant garde in the finest Darmstadt traditions. It is, at about 30 minutes, the longest piece here and it reflects the further maturity of the composer as he creates another challenging but almost surprisingly satisfying work.
This album serves as a nice way to be introduced to Helmut Lachenmann and to get to know some major new champions of the avant garde. And one would do well to stay informed about the work being done by this fine new music clarinetist.