Thomas Larcher: The Living Mountain

Sarah Aristidou, Alisa Weilerstein, Luka Juhart, Aaron Pilsan, Münchener Kammerorchester, Clemens Schuldt, Andrè Schuen, Daniel Heide

Austrian composer Thomas Larcher’s new album features premiere recordings of three strongly contrasting works. The Times has hailed Larcher’s music as a world “of haunting landscapes and dreams, stylistically disparate but fused by the composer’s astonishing ear and quizzical attitude to traditional forms”, a description borne out by the compositions here. The Living Mountain, for soprano and ensemble, draws upon the memoir of the Scottish poet and nature writer Nan Shepherd. Unerzählt is an intimate song cycle for baritone and piano, deploying texts of German writer W.G. Sebald.  And Ouroboros, named for the serpent of eternity, is a powerful piece for cello and chamber orchestra. Recorded in Munich and Weerberg in 2021 and 2022 and produced by Manfred Eicher, The Living Mountain is the fourth New Series album of Larcher’s compositions.
Das neue Album des österreichischen Komponisten Thomas Larcher enthält Ersteinspielungen von drei sich stark kontrastierenden Werken. Die britische Tageszeitung The Times hat Larchers Musik als eine "Klangwelt eindringlicher Landschaften und Träume“ bezeichnet, „die stilistisch vielseitig sind, aber durch das erstaunliche Gehör des Komponisten und seine neugierige Einstellung zu traditionellen Formen miteinander verschmelzen" – eine Beschreibung, die in den vorliegenden Kompositionen Bestätigung findet. The Living Mountain, für Sopran und Ensemble, basiert auf den Memoiren der schottischen Schriftstellerin Nan Shepherd. Bei Unerzählt hendelt es sich um einen intimen Liederzyklus für Bariton und Klavier, der Texte des deutschen Schriftstellers W.G. Sebald verwendet. Und Ouroboros, benannt nach der Schlange der Ewigkeit, ist ein ausdrucksvolles Stück für Cello und Kammerorchester. The Living Mountain, das inzwischen vierte New Series Album mit Kompositionen von Larcher, wurde in den Jahren 2021 und 2022 in München und Weerberg aufgenommen.
Featured Artists Recorded

June 2021 & May 2022

Original Release Date


  • The Living Mountain
    (Thomas Larcher, Nan Shepherd)
  • 1Introduction00:29
  • 2At first, mad to recover the tang of height02:23
  • 3As I reach the highest part of my dark moor02:16
  • 4In September dawns I hardly breathe03:00
  • 5Once, on a night of such clear silence04:00
  • 6Further up, is all snow02:42
  • Ourobos
    (Thomas Larcher)
  • 7Allegretto09:25
  • 8Allegro infuriato02:50
  • 9Adagio ma non troppo06:27
  • Unerzählt
    (Thomas Larcher, W.G. Sebald)
  • 10Plinius sagt01:50
  • 11Die roten Flecken02:31
  • 12Wenn die Blitze herabfuhren02:26
  • 13Gleich einem Hund01:05
  • 14Am 8.Mai 192702:57
  • 15Mitten im Schlaf01:13
  • 16Venezianisches Wachspräparat01:01
  • 17Es heißt daß Napoleon02:11
  • 18Aus dem Vorderschiff des Gehirns01:28
  • 19Blaues Gras00:53
  • 20Zuletzt werden bloß soviel überbleiben03:52
  • 21So glitt ich lautlos01:10
  • 22So wird, wenn der Sehnerv zerreißt01:34
‚In September dawns I hardly breathe‘, singt Sarah Aristidou und lässt ihren hellen Sopran über Thomas Larchers ‚The Living Mountain‘ schweben. In ‚Ouroboros‘ für Cello und Orchester geht es rhythmisch ordentlich zur Sache. Blätter rascheln, Regen prasselt, der Wind saust, Donner grollt. Bariton André Schuen und Pianist Aaron Pilsan verleihen den Miniaturen ‚Unerzählt‘ etwas Unmittelbares, Zerbrechliches.
Miriam Damev, Falter
In ‘The Living Mountain’ setzt man sich immer wieder überraschenden, ja existentiellen Hörerfahrungen aus. Den Texten aus Sheperds Buch folgen noch zwei weitere Werke Larchers: darunter Lieder für Bariton, auf Prosaminiaturen von W.G.Sebald. Es sind rätselhafte Texte, die nach Sebalds Tod in einem Buch mit ‘Augenlandschaften’ des Malers Jan Peter Tripp erschienen sind. Statt Bild und Text nun, bei Thomas Larcher, Musik und Text. Mit großer Eindringlichkeit weiß sie der Bariton Andrè Schuen vorzuführen.
Bernhard Doppler, Südwestrundfunk
Thomas Larcher’s ‘The Living Mountain’ is a realist, handheld-camera response to the Hollywood glitz of Strauss’s ‘Alpine Symphony.’ The soprano sings the climber’s snippets from Nan Shepherd’s book of the same name, joined by a brittle ensemble that can be arrestingly literal (you’ll hear wind, vertigo and a white-out) but is so very delicate and just as cinematic as Strauss’s orchestra. The work opens with a prelude that could be a distant avalanche – a simple roll on a drum. This is storytelling music that approaches Abrahamsen  for lucidity, but there are telling moments in which Larcher is drawn into the world of harmony he so relishes […] The compact cello concerto ‘Ouroboros’ sits well between the song-cycles, a reminder that Larcher is fundamentally a lyrical composer even when voices aren’ t concealing the wood in the trees. […] It’s tense, rich in material (much of it rhythmic) and again shows Larcher being pulled towards canonical harmonic styles, in this case Baltic-style parallel harmonies and some more shadows of Pärt besides. Consistently engaging music from a composer who says what he needs to say.
Andrew Mellor, Gramophone
Elementar, archaisch, zugleich zerbrechlich und fein ist die Musik des Tiroler Komponisten Thomas Larcher auf diesem Album, dessen Titel ‘The Living Mountain’ auf die Erinnerungen der schottischen Autorin Nan Shepherd zurückgeht. Lachers gleichnamiges Stück für Sopran und Ensemble mag eine Hommage an die Berge sein, die ihn seit Kindheitstagen umgeben. Dennoch ist es keine Landschaftsbeschreibung oder Programmmusik. Das gilt auch für den intimen Liederzyklus und das energetische Stück ‘Ouroboros’ für Cello und Kammerorchester auf dieser CD. Es bleiben wunderbar rätselhafte, überraschende und existentielle Hörerlebnisse.
Meret Forster, Bayerischer Rundfunk
The first rule of recording used to be: never bring out an unknown work unless it is performed by a world-famous artist. Anything less would be commercial suicide. I cannot remember any major company ever breaking this rule. The only transgressors were fringe labels with zero overheads who, like Indian gurus, cultivated a tribe of true believers who bought into whatever they did. The supreme Maharishi of this peripheral cult was ECM’s Manfred Eicher, and he is still going strong in Munich after 54 years of doing his own thing — backing obscure scores from the medievalist Morales to Meredith Monk with artists as little-known as the stuff they played. Eicher’s latest release is another punt into the unknown. The composer Thomas Larcher is an Austrian of esoteric tendencies. Mystical to a fault, his latest collection consists of two solo vocal settings of enigmatic English texts by Nan Shepherd and W. G. Sebald, framing a cello concerto for chamber orchestra with piano obbligato. […] Eicher being Eicher, you start out listening with amused tolerance and wind up transfixed by music of hypnotic power, driving towards an inescapable destiny. The cover image tilts the imagination in an ecological direction, but the orchestral writing of the title track draws little from mother nature. It tinkles and tintinnabulates, using an accordion for colour and a soprano (Sarah Aristidou) who soars but seldom swoops. […] The last rule of a dying record industry is: there are no rules.
Norman Lebrecht, La Scena Musicale
The works here blend considerable complexity with a limpid surface, giving the listener the feeling of having a clear view of mysterious events. There are two song cycles, one for baritone and piano, and one for soprano and chamber orchestra, with piano and accordion, plus a concerto of sorts called ‘Ouroboros’ for cello and chamber orchestra featuring the well-known cellist Alisa Weilerstein. The title orchestral cycle is in English with a text by Nan Shepherd […] He also does well in text selection with the cycle Unerzählt (‘Untold’), with poems by the notoriously gnomic and compact W.G. Sebald matching Larcher’s Cagean prepared piano techniques. All the singers are very strong, but baritone Andrè Schuen is a standout here. One may not be able to reduce the significance of these works easily to words, but the whole thing is engrossing as it goes by, and needless to say, ECM’s studio sound is ideal. An intriguing ECM release.
James Manheim, All Music
Austrian composer Thomas Larcher’s new album features premiere recordings of three strongly contrasting works.
The Living Mountain, composed 2019-20, draws inspiration from Scottish poet and nature writer Nan Shepherd’s book of the same name. Having grown up in Tyrol and familiar with mountain landscapes, Larcher was taken by Shepherd’s unique approach to the topic in her memoir, and “how completely different it is from all the other literature touching upon this subject. There’s a particularly palpable connection between her introspection and the nature that surrounds her, the microscopic details that are elaborated in that context. Being able to identify with her writing as much as I did, reading the book turned into my own introspective journey and immediately sparked the musical connotations that I elaborate in my piece”.
In the piece, motifs are bound to thunderous percussive crescendos and insistent note repetitions that frame the powerful and evocative vocal performance of Sarah Aristidou. Besides the relation to Nan Shepherd’s text, Larcher’s piece also draws from a series of photographs by Dutch photographer Awoiska van der Molen – landscape pictures taken in the mountains of Tyrol that were first published alongside the premiere of Larcher’s piece in 2022. Van der Molen and the composer felt a deep affinity with each other’s work from the start – work “characterized by the slowness of analogue composing and photography as well as constraint through erasing and concealing of content.”
The act of concealment, of leaving things unsaid, is the keyword of Larcher’s setting of German author W.G. Sebald’s Unerzählt (composed 2019-20). A song cycle performed by baritone Andrè Schuen and pianist Daniel Heide, Unerzählt is composed of thirteen sparsely designed miniatures that underscore Schuen’s expressive range. Unerzählt presents its miniatures in a very pure and concentrated way, with their enigmatic appeal leaving much freedom for interpretation.
On Ouroboros, an instrumental work in three movements for violoncello and orchestra, cellist Alisa Weilerstein draws compelling lines against the backdrop of the Munich Chamber Orchestra’s cluster harmonies and the pointillist accompaniment of pianist Aaron Pilsan. The second movement, Allegro infuriato, true to its tempo indication, is a storm of sonic fury.
Described by Alex Ross in The New Yorker as “an unpredictable, freethinking composer, who has set aside the modernist strictures that have long governed Central European music”, Thomas Larcher, was born in Innsbruck in 1963, and studied composition and piano in Vienna. His ECM recordings include Naunz (2001), Ixxu (2006) and Madhares (2011).
Andrè Schuen grew up in South Tyrol, where he played cello before studying singing at the University Mozarteum Salzburg. He is today one of the most sought-after baritones, performing in opera houses across the world, such as the Bavarian State Opera, the Vienna State Opera, Royal Opera House Covent Garden and others. More recently, Schuen “made big waves”, to quote the Swiss daily Neue Züricher Zeitung, at the Salzburger Festspiele 2023 for his part as Count Almaviva in Mozart’s La Nozze Di Figaro.
The French-Cypriot soprano Sarah Aristidou is an award-winning interpreter of both contemporary music and core opera repertoire. In 2022/23, Aristidou she made her debut at Semperoper Dresden under Omer Meir Wellber as Zerbinetta in Richard Strauss’sAriadne auf Naxos. In the same year she also made her debut at the Bavarian State Opera.
American violoncellist Alisa Weilerstein’s commitment to new music has been recognized with a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant”. She has worked extensively with composers Osvaldo Golijov, Lera Auerbach and Joseph Hallman, among others.
The Münchner Kammerorchester’s association with ECM began in 2000. Since then the orchestra has recorded music of Mansurian, Hartmann, Bach, Webern, Scelsi, Hosokawa, Isang Yun, Barry Guy and more. In 2011 they also contributed to Larcher’s Madhares album.
The Living Mountain and Ouroboros were recorded in June 2021 and Unerzählt in May 2022. The album was produced by Manfred Eicher.
CD booklet include photographs from Awoiska van der Molen’s ‘The Living Mountain’ series and liner notes by Friedrike Gösweiner.