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Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik (Vierteljahresliste 1/2001)
Stereo, CD des Monats

The Swiss musician Heinz Holliger is the greatest oboist of our time, but the fact that he is also one of the most intriguing and accomplished composers of his generation is only now beginning to gain ground, thanks at least in part to ECM, which over the last decade has steadily championed Holliger's cause. Now, in an exceptional set that is as immaculately performed and recorded as it is meticulously documented, they have released the biggest and most impressive of his recent scores: his first full-length opera, Schneewittchen, premiered in Zurich in 1998. ... The narrative is tortuos; there is no catharsis, no resolution, It is spare, intense and often raw-nerved, and Holliger matches ist intensity and teasing symmetries with a score of quite breathtaking imagination and crystalline control. ... It is an extraordinary achievement, and a stage work of rich allusiveness and strange, disquieting power. The performance, conducted by Holliger, is masterly, and Juliane Banse in the title role nothing short of superb.
Andrew Clements, The Guardian (Classical CD of the week)

The musical treatment is comparatively straightforward, with emphasis placed on the definition of vocal lines in conveying the surreal whimsy of the libretto. To say that the judiciously chosen chamber orchestra is predominantly an accoustic echo-chamber for the voices is not to play down its importance; indeed, this is the most fluid and intricate orchestration Holliger has yet attempted, with an aural coherence that sustains the drama through numerous discontinuities in narrative. A strong cast, fresh form the première staging in Zurich last year, is headed by the vibrant Snow White of Juliane Banse, and the many-shaded Queen of Cornelia Kallisch. Steve Davislim is a properly mock-heroic Prince, with Oliver Widmer a jejune Huntsman. Working with a surprisingly forward ECM sound balance, Holliger demonstrates his conducting prowess in maintaining dramatic flow at all times.
Graham Simpson, International Record Review

Ganz im Sinne eines Psychodramas belebt Heinz Holliger seine Figuren. Entstanden ist ein Theater des Unterbewusstseins. Es ist schon staunenswert, mit welcher identifikatorischen Kraft sich der Komponist musikalisch in den psychischen Schlagabtausch hineindenkt, wie er sich der gebrochenen Sprache Walsers bemächtigt und alles aus der dichterischen Vorlage ableitet. Entstanden ist so eine große, bis in feinste Verästelungen subtil durchgeformte Kammermusik. Farbenreich funkelt die orchestrale Palette. Entsprechend vielgestaltig erscheint das rhetorische Figurenmaterial. ... Das hochvirtuose, voller technischer Schwierigkeiten strotzende Werk lotst Heinz Holliger bravourös durch alle Schreckstellen. Diese Kunstfertigkeit springt den Hörer unmittelbar an - Musik zum Mitdenken, Mitfühlen und Erregen.
Egon Bezold, Stereo

Heinz Holligers 1998 uraufgeführte Kammeroper liefert zu dem rätselreichen Text einen Musikkommentar voller Brechungen. Da darf man vielem nicht trauen, denn in die Klangerzählung mischen sich auch ironische bis parodistische Farben und gerade die vermeintlichen Assoziationen führen oft in Sackgassen. Die Gesangspartien sind anspruchsvoll und doch dankbar. Allen voran Juliane Banse als Schneewittchen kann als Vexierbild einer Märchenfigur faszinieren. Die hoch konzentrierte Einspielung unter der Leitung des Komponisten ist ein starkes Plädoyer für diese manchmal unterkühlte, aber auch versponnene bis witzige Komposition.
Rainer Wagner, Klassik Heute

Heinz Holliger ist ein großartiger Oboist, ein immer noch unterschätzter Dirigent und nicht nur von Kollegen aufmerksam verfolgter Komponist. Dabei ist seine Musik keinesfalls anbiedernd neotonal. Ihre Basis ist der Atem und dessen ebenso zarte wie komplexe Schichtungen. Unterschiedliche Stilebenen tauchen hinter wechselnden Klangvorhängen auf und verschwinden wieder. Holliger ist ein Meister des Verwehenden. ... Holligers Märchenoper ist ein Spiel über das Sich-Ins-Märchen-Wünschen, in dem die Figuren sich selbst verstellen, um sich lügend über ihre Identität klar zu werden. ... Walser und Holliger zeigen: Jedes wirkliche Gefühl muss erst gebrochen und in Frage gestellt werden: "Nichts ist mir angenehmer, als Menschen, die ich in mein Herz geschlossen habe, ein ganz falsches Bild von mir zu geben." Kann es eine bessere Definition für die Oper geben.
Anton Sergl, Süddeutsche Zeitung

Un nouveau miracle de l'opéra contemporain, après les oeuvres de Ruders et Boesmans. C'est évidemment l'un de nos événements du mois.
Répertoire

HEINZ HOLLIGER is probably still better known as an exceptional oboist than as a composer. But ECM's imminent release of a recording of his opera "Schneewittchen" ("Snow White") - his biggest work of recent years, completed in 1998 - should help shift that imbalance.

Forget Disney. This "Snow White" is based on a deeply unsettling play by Robert Walser, a writer with whom Mr. Holliger has had a special relationship, across the gap of 60 years that separates them. (Mr. Holliger was born in 1939; Walser died in 1956 at 78.) What they share is not just Swiss nationality but, much more important, a quality of searching, a pushing at boundaries, a distrust of what everybody knows, and a sense of humor. ...
Full of passionate expression and cast in unrhymed ballad meter, Walser's play makes a wonderful libretto, and Mr. Holliger honors it with a setting in which its words are clear. This is opera as song, in an intense lyrical style recalling its composer's admiration for Webern. The lyricism and the intensity extend also into the orchestra, where lines, colors and textures flick past almost before they can be recognized, producing a constantly renewed stream of expression and character. It is this perpetual renewal, this vivid pulse of life and thought, that counteracts and contradicts the bleak vision of pathological fantasts, even while it creates that vision. There is something childlike in the eagerness of Mr. Holliger's music, as there is in Walser's text, an adolescent delight and disquiet.
This recording of "Schneewittchen" was made with the cast and orchestra responsible for the Zurich Opera premiere. Juliane Banse is formidable in the title role, winging effortlessly and musically into the high register, ice-cold but burning with pent-up emotions and questions. The contralto Cornelia Kallisch majestically embodies the Queen's tired abandonment of morality in favor of sex and lies (black ones in her case). These two characters dominate, but there are also excellent performances from the tenor Steve Davislim, the baritone Oliver Widmer and the bass Werner Gröschel. The composer conducts.

The album is beautifully produced and presented, with a booklet that includes an outstanding English translation of the libretto by Walter Arndt. In every respect, this is a superb achievement.
It should draw attention to Mr. Holliger's extraordinary creative output. His biggest previous achievement was the"Scardanelli Cycle" (1975-91), a concert-length collection of choral settings and interludes and meditations for small orchestra based on the work of another writer of unsound mind, Hölderlin. "Scardanelli" was the pseudonym the poet adopted for poems written during the long years of his confinement: poems that are finely touched and felt in their remoteness by Mr. Holliger's music. ECM has also recorded this work as well as two anthologies including smaller pieces dating from the period of the Hölderlin project. One of these takes its title, "Lieder Ohne Worte" ("Songs Without Words"; ECM 1618; CD), from two sets of pieces for violin and piano, played by Thomas Zehetmair with ferocious skill and address, to Thomas Larcher's accompaniment. The pieces are songs in two senses: poetically, for they are lyrical miniatures, and in terms of sound, because they often make the action of bow on string sound like breath. That quality, perhaps, comes from their being the work of an oboist.

The other ECM album devoted to Mr. Holliger features vocal pieces from a decade ago: "Beiseit" ("Aside") and "Alb-Chehr," whose Swiss-German title has various meanings revolving around the ideas of ghosts, returning, the Alps and music. "Beiseit" - a set of songs for countertenor (David James in the excellent recording) with a wheezy trio of clarinet, double bass and accordion - was Mr. Holliger's first point of contact with Walser, and it makes some first steps out of the "Scardanelli" world toward the opera's livelier imagery and sense of productive friction between voice and instrumental ensemble. ... "Schneewittchen" is also foreshadowed in some tangy, slightly drunken folk dances, both here and in "Alb- Chehr," a folk tale with musical episodes that will appeal most to those who are in touch with their inner Swiss.
Others will probably want to go from "Schneewittchen" first to the "Scardanelli Cycle" and the "Lieder Ohne Worte." All three of these albums contain music of spectacular beauty, intense and quizzical, music whose nakedness of expression may call to mind the work of György Kurtág, and whose manic artifice that of György Ligeti: two composers with whom Mr. Holliger shared a teacher in Sándor Veress.

"Schneewittchen" comes out of a long process of growth and suggests, in its abundant invention, growth continuing. It also has a sure place in the magnificent sunset the 20th century gave us.
Paul Griffiths, New York Times

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"Scardanelli Cycle" (1975-91)

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"Beiseit" ("Aside") and "Alb-Chehr,"