Saturday, September 7, 2019

Mode Records Introduces Friedrich Jaecker

courtesy of Naxos of America

Like many I came to know Mode Records through the many recordings they released of performances of the works of John Cage and Morton Feldman. The operation seems to run on a shoestring, and their Web site does not appear to do a particularly good job of keeping up with recent releases. At the middle of last month, Mode released what is probably its first album of the composer Friedrich Jaecker, entitled paradis. Since the Mode Web site seems to know Jaecker only as the author of the booklet notes for one of the label’s recordings of the music of Giacinto Scelsi, one is better off learning about Jaecker through the Web page for this new release.

Jaecker’s most significant studies took place in Cologne at the Hochschule für Musik und Tanz Köln, where his teacher was György Ligeti. He is recognized as an expert on the music of Scelsi (not just by Mode Records); and his knowledge of Feldman is equally extensive. In addition, through his study of the music of Harry Partch, he has developed an interest in just intonation. Thus, the longest composition on this new album amounts to a study of intervallic relations based on natural harmonics. It is entitled “Harry’s Dream” and has a duration of little over half an hour.

Jaecker was also interested in Partch’s commitment to building new instruments through which he could explore the potential of just intonation. This inspired Jaecker to build his own version of a glass harmonica consisting of 33 glasses tuned according to Partch’s principles. Each individual glass has its own performer, whose part also includes both humming and singing. There are also texts that are often recited without accompaniment by the glasses. The performance on this album is by the Chamber Choir of the University of Cologne, led by Director Michael Ostrzyga.

Given the resources, there is clearly a spatial aspect to this composition that it not captured particularly adequately by the Mode recording. (It is worth recalling that there are theatrical elements in many of Partch’s compositions.) Indeed, on the basis of my own past listening experiences, I would suggest that this is music that might best be performed in a gallery space, rather than a concert hall. I might even recommend that listeners be allowed to walk among the performers were it not for the danger that such listeners might interfere with the execution of the composition through distraction or disruption. Mode’s two-channel audio certainly allows one to appreciate the intervallic relationships, but audio alone is probably not sufficient to sustain attention for half an hour.

Ironically, the rest of the album is devoted to equal-tempered pianos. The performers are the members of pianoduo elaeis (named after the source of palm oil), Jovita Zähl and Philipp Kronbichler. The album begins with the title track, a pointillist study that tends to favor high-pitched tones. Here, again, the recording does not give the sense that this is music performed on two pianos; and it is hard to imagine that the spatial disposition of the tones (most played in isolation from the other tones) does not play a significant role in the listening experience.

The remainder of the album consists of 24 miniatures, half of which are called “Bagatellen” and the other half “Studien.” The original collections were published separately, but the performances of the bagatelles and études alternate. That alternation extends to the performers with Zähl playing the bagatelles and Kronbichler playing the études. These miniatures suggest the potential impact of another composer, György Kurtág, even if he is not explicitly acknowledged. The entire set comes across is being more than a little too much; and those familiar with Kurtág are likely to miss the wit that he brought to many (if not most) of his own exercises in miniaturist undertakings.

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