Friedrich Cerha is best known worldwide as the composer who completed the 3rd act of Alban Berg’s opera Lulu, played universally today in his reconstructed version. Born in 1926, he has always been an independent spirit. Associated early on with the two rival 12-tone schools - Hauer’s and Schoenberg’s - he founded, in 1958, the ensemble “die reihe” which remained under his direction until 1983 and set high standards for the performance of modern music. His Cello Concerto, commissioned by the Wien Modern and Berlin Festivals, employs characteristically unorthodox textures. Heinrich Schiff’s brilliant, energized cello moves swiftly and agilely through ever-changing climates coloured variously by soprano sax, bongos and congas, and organ as well as banks of strings.
“The Austrian composer and conductor Friedrich Cerha's…Cello Concerto, completed in 1996 for Heinrich Schiff, is a work of both substance and originality. Schiff himself is the eloquent soloist ere, casting off reams of golden tone in…work's lyrical central movement and never resorting to coarseness in the more energetic music. Peter Eötvös conducts the Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra in a full-blooded, luxuriant account of Schreker's masterly late-Romantic score...”
“ECM has performed another valuable service in releasing a major work by Friedrich Cerha who remains best known for completing the third act of Berg's Lulu. His own music is poorly represented but the Cello Concerto is certainly representative of his recent output. It began life in 1989 as a 'Phantasiestück' that, seven years on, was made the centrepiece of the present three-movement work. And it is this movement, its serene outer sections enclosing a scherzo of limpid delicacy, that makes the strongest impression. Those either side intensify Cerha's combative post- Romanticism, but their rather dutiful alternation between relative dynamism and stasis does not always generate the momentum needed to power the 35-minute whole, for all that dedicatee Heinrich Schiff is effortlessly in command of its interpretative challenges. Whether or not Cerha occupies a niche corresponding to that of Franz Schreker at the beginning of the 20th century (as Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich's booklet-note seems to imply), his Chamber Symphony (1916) makes an apposite coupling: a work that both reflects the Straussian opulence of his previous operas and anticipates the impressionistic subtlety of those that followed. Peter Eötvös emphasises the latter and throws the ingenious four-movements-in-one format into constructive relief. With its luminous textures alluringly caught by the superb recording, this is now the version to have and the whole disc offers an unfailingly absorbing listen.”
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