OSPALD: Tschappina-Variationen. Konzert für Ensemble und Violine.
Bettina Boller, violin; Collegium Novum Zürich/Peter Hirsch, cond.
NEOS SACD 10712 TT: 58:02

KUBÍK: Songs of Zhivago for tenor and orchestra. Concerto breve for piano and orchestra. Sinfonietta No. 2 "Jacob's Well."
Adrian Thompson, tenor; Czech Philharmonic Orch/Ronald Zollman, cond. (Songs); Joanna Sobkowska, piano; Prague Radio Symphony Orch/Vladimir Válek, cond.
NEOS SACD 10711 TT: 52:37

MOE: Lenger for string quartet and solo violin. HADDAD: Joie voilée for string quartet. RIHM: Akt und Tag (two studies for soprano and string quartet). ESTRADA: Quotidianus (for voice and string quartet).
Ole-Henrik Moe, violin; Claron McFadden, soprano; Julio Estrada, voice; Arditti Quartet
NEOS SACD 10724 T: 67:27

HAAS: Hyperion (Concerto for light and orchestra). WIDMANN: Zweites Labyrinth for orchestral groups.
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg ("Rupert Huber, rehearsals/rosalie, light installation")/Hans Zender, cond. (Widmann)
NEOS SACD 10725 TT: 53:56

SPAHLINGER: Farben der Frühe (for seven pianos)
Ensemble Surplus/James Avery, cond.
NEOS SACD 107010 TT: 46:47

Neos, a German company associated with the Bavarian Radio, has a new series of avant-garde releases featuring premiere recordings of works by composers on the cutting edge of today's contemporary music scene. This "music" surely is for a very limited audience. Often while listening to much of it I was reminded of an old Carol Burnett television skit in which she, Harvey Korman, Vikki Lawrence, and Tim Conway all in concert performance attire walked on stage and began to perform on various instruments ad libitum, always with very serious expressions on their faces, pausing dramatically on occasion before resuming their assaults on their instruments.

I really cannot relate to most of the music presented in this series. True, there are some fascinating sounds, but musically I wouldn't care to hear these works again. Estrada's Quotidianus features the composer making sounds here called "singing," while the Arditti Quartet makes sounds you would not think could come from a string quartet, which they also do in works by Moe, Haddad and Rihm. Hyperion is a "concerto for light and orchestra." The composer perceives light as a musical instrument. Four orchestral groups are separated with four different light sources to which the groups respond (although of course on this recording we are not aware of the lights). This work is 40 min.+ with only one track. The composer's notes for this are all too brief and don't really tell us much of what is going on. Rupert Huber is credited with "rehearsals" and "rosalie" with "light installation." Zweites Labyrinth is the second version of a work originally written for strings, in this revised version played by strings as well as percussion, woodwinds and brass, all nicely separated in surround sound. The seven pianos in Spahlinger's Farben der Frühe are separated into four clusters, so the disjointed seemingly unplanned sounds come at you from all directions.

Program notes throughout are limited, but in three languages, with verbose commentary on composing styles, relationships, and other statements including, in regard to music by Ospald, "In addition to his unmistakable shaping of rhythm, which is acquainted with many states between the poles of near paralysis and driven haste and often lends an almost scenic quality to the progressions of his compositions, we find an expressive gesture of pitch contours as well as a specific sonority and timbre of temporal processes that multiply the semantic impression." I have no idea what this means, although in its own way it sounds rather impressive, I guess. No texts are provided for any of the vocal works.

All of the recordings are beautifully engineered with superb surround sound. Four of the five disks have playing times of less than an hour, and all are premium-priced. Approach with caution, and keep in mind Hans Christian Andersen's Story of the Emperor's New Clothes.

R.E.B. (January 2008)