Contrechant - Music for clarinet solo

Reto Bieri

CD18,90 out of print

Reto Bieri was born in Zug, Switzerland, and grew up under the influence of Swiss folk music, before going on to study at New York’s Juilliard School. Besides the standard repertoire for his own instrument, he is especially interested in contemporary music and cooperation with contemporary composers forms an important part of his work: almost all of the pieces heard here were developed in collaboration with the composers. The result is a really outstanding album of new clarinet music which will be a reference work for players and listeners alike. Repertoire includes Luciano Berio’s “Lied”, Heinz Holliger’s “Contrechant” and “Rechant”, Elliott Carter’s “Gra”, Salvatore Sciarrino’s “Let me die before I wake”, Péter Eötvös’s “Derwischtanz”, and Gergely Vajda’s “Lightshadow-trembling”.

Featured Artists Recorded

September 2010, Propstei St. Gerold

Original Release Date


  • 1Lied (1983)
    (Luciano Berio)
  • Contrechant (sur le nom de Baudelaire)
    (Heinz Holliger)
  • 2I01:56
  • 3II01:54
  • 4III01:42
  • 5IV01:14
  • 6V01:14
  • 7Epilog04:56
  • 8Let me die before I wake (1982)
    (Salvatore Sciarrino)
  • 9Gra (1993)
    (Elliott Carter)
  • 10Rechant (2008)
    (Heinz Holliger)
  • 11Derwischtanz (1993/2001)
    (Peter Eötvös)
  • 12Ligthshadow-trembling (1993)
    (Gergely Vajda)
Reto Bieri is a Swiss clarinettist, and this collection of contemporary solo works reveals him as a wonderfully controlled and subtle interpreter. As one might expect, none of the pieces is very long – most last about five minutes. Only Heinz Holliger's Contrechant, from 2007, whose six movements spun from a musical spelling of Baudelaire's name take just over 14 minutes, and Salvatore Sciarrino's Let Me Die Before I Awake, a 10-minute exploration of a whisper-quiet sound world of harmonics, multiphonics and tremolandos, become anything more substantial. Holliger contributes a second piece, Rechant, written a year later than Contrechant, which is more linear and melodic than its companion, though the virtuoso demands it makes are just as severe. The nearest to repertory works are Luciano Berio's beautifully shaped and coloured Lied, from 1983, and Elliott Carter's Gra, a gruff 80th-birthday tribute to Witold Lutosławski; Peter Eötvös's Derwischtanz and Gergely Vajda's Lightshadow Trembling are less striking, though Bieri's performances of them are equally fastidious.
Andrew Clements, The Guardian
Swiss clarinettist Reto Bieri features solo here on pieces by challenging composers such as Luciano Berio, Heinz Holliger and Elliott Carter - an austere prospect, but one which reveals an engaging aspect, from the moment Berio´s `Lied´ (as in `song´, rather than untruth) opens with little fluting gulps as Bieri elides between notes. Carter´s´ `Gra´ (Polish for `play´) has a darting character, while the hypnotic ululations of Salvatore Sciarrino´s `Let me die before I wake´ operate at the lower limits of audibility. Elsewhere Holliger´s six-part `Contrechant´ plunges over three octaves in its first few notes, going on to incorporate tongue-slapped single notes and longer, gurgling tremors among the general flow.
Andy Gill, The Independent
Reto Bieri’s unaccompanied programme gets to the essence of each composer and actually feels the better fort he lack of busy counterpoint (e.g. in the case of Elliott Carter). And there is no risk of solo clarinet becoming insufficient; Bieri holds attention throughout with his beauty of tone and uncommon expressiveness with multiphonics, which can often feel gimmicky. A marvellous disc which takes clarinet playing to a new level. Highly recommended to explorer listeners who don’t seek just facile excitement.
Peter Grahame Woolf, Musikal Pointers
Reto Bieri’s New Series debut is a brilliant recital for solo clarinet that looks at new developmental possibilities in the ‘language’ of the instrument in modern music. Bieri quotes with approval Heinz Holliger’s statement “My entire relation to music is such that I always try to go to the limits”. Here the Swiss clarinettist has brought together pieces from the border regions of compositional exploration, as well as the pathways that link them. Under examination here are, for instance, the border region “between silence and the birth of sound and noise, a magical region”, touched upon in the music of Salvatore Sciarrino, Heinz Holliger and Gergely Vajda. Then there is the juncture of speech, sprechgesang and melody (referenced in Holliger and Luciano Berio), as well as the border region linking gesture, dance, ritual and game – as in Holliger, Elliott Carter and Péter Eötvös.
In Holliger’s “Contrechant”, the piece that gives Bieri’s album its title, all the regions are illuminated, calling for “a new kind of virtuosity from the player”, a challenge to which Reto Bieri rises. With the exception of the late Luciano Berio, the clarinettist has worked closely with each of the featured composers to realize optimum performance of these pieces. What a fascinating group of composers it is, too: from Elliott Carter – at 102, America’s Grand Old Man of new music – to Gergely Vajda, former student of Eötvös, who wrote “Lightshadow-trembling” when he was only twenty.
Paul Griffiths, in his liner notes, emphasizes the ‘singing’ quality of the performances: “Song. Some of the titles nudge us in that direction – Lied, Contrechant, Rechant – but what makes the conclusion inescapable is the fluency, the nuanced variety of Reto Bieri’s playing. This is indeed song: song without words … song in which sound alone sings”.
Bieri views the choice of pieces for the present album as an extension of the ideal repertoire suggested by the 1995 ECM solo clarinet recording “dal niente” by Eduard Brunner, with music of Lachenmann, Stockhausen, Stravinsky, Boulez, Scelsi and Yun. (Both solo clarinet discs were recorded at Propstei St Gerold, with Manfred Eicher producing). “Contrechant” is destined to prove no less influential.