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Music Review: Friedrich Cerha – Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra & Franz Schreker – Chamber Symphony in One Movement

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ECM’s New Series has been giving listeners a chance to explore modern classical music, allowing new audiences to become exposed to wonderful pieces of music they may not be familiar with. Released in March of 2008, it contains two magnificent compositions. One piece is somewhat more contemporary than the other, but both pieces bond in an inimitable way to create a charming compilation.

The first piece features cellist Heinrich Schiff performing with the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra on a composition dedicated to him by Austrian composer Friedrich Cerha. Cerha’s “Concerto for violoncello and orchestra” is from 1989/1996.

Cerha’s concerto is an unconventional piece of music that requires a few listens in order for the meat of the work to sink in. It is a passionate sonic expedition, one that requires attention and persistence. Some of the composition functions as a sort of pursuit, while other portions settle down and provide tranquil tones. The piece is fitted with the sole purpose of Schiff’s cello, of course, and his adept performance is beguiling and thrilling.

Friedrich Cerha was born in Vienna in 1926. Currently 82 years old, he is often considered to be Austria’s greatest living composer. In 1958, Cerha’s commitment to the spread of modern classical music manifested itself in the establishment of “die reihe,” an ensemble he formed with Kurt Schwertsik, the Austrian composer. With this composition, Cerha is making his ECM debut.

The second piece on the recording is more straightforward, but no less compelling. Franz Schreker’s “Kammersymphonie in einem Satz (Chamber Symphony in one movement) is a pleasant-sounding piece which logically flows in a more melodious direction than the previous work of art on the recording. Schreker’s composition is from 1916.

Schreker’s work was written in the middle of World War I to signify and commemorate the anniversary of the Vienna Academy of Music. His music signifies a refusal to play within the rules. While very melodic, the exploration of sound from Schrecker is perceptible instantaneously. The piece’s polished preamble, for instance, captures his impracticality with a cheerful flute and affectionate violins.

Franz Schreker primarily composed operas. His compositions are mostly noted for being an amalgamation of the aesthetics of the time. His music is distinguished for its experimentation with tone and pitch, which suited the stage for which he composed.

The ECM New Series continues to put out first-rate contemporary classical music, safeguarding the standards of these great composers and musicians by providing intelligent liner notes and striking packaging. The music showcased in the New Series is a must-have for collectors of modern classical music or rookies stumbling gawkily through the genre like me.

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