Paris, 1968: with the premiere of Stimmung, Stockhausen redefined the very notion of what vocal music is. This series of sonic sequences, entirely built on the overtones of B flat in multiple combinations, embraces new musical techniques and explores the inner world of speech and song.
Paul Hillier, a specialist in contemporary vocal repertoire, proves in his new recording that this milestone of 20th-century music is still as relevant as ever.
“A turning point for composer and contemporary music alike, Stimmung merges the serialist's rigour with the minimalist's empiricism. Barely tangible shifts between timbres, thythms, meters and words are core to this work's realisation. With their judgement and ingenuity, the recording engineers contrive to place us inside this remarkable sonic event.” BBC Music Magazine, May 2008
“In this new edition Hillier, who was a member of Singcircle when that group recorded its version for Hyperion in 1983 (CDA66115), has succeeded triumphantly in his aim of more accurately realising the effect of the piece in concert, rather than the sometimes disconcertingly in-your-ear close-mic immediacy of Singcircle's recording, superbly performed through it was. For once, surround-sound is more than a gimmick, since Stockhausen is one of the handful of composers in whose music placement and movement of sound is of the essence.” BBC Music Magazine, October 2007 *****
“one of the most gorgeous vocal soundscapes in all 20th century music. A thrilling and important performance - possibly the CD highlight of 2007 so far.” Gramophone Magazine, 2007
“Paul Hillier sang bass in the famous performances of Stockhausen's psychedelic Stimmung that Gregory Rose's Singcircle vocal troupe toured during the mid-1980s. Two decades on and Hillier's understanding of this unique piece might even be greater than the composer's own. He has objectivity on his side – a quality that Stockhausen himself squandered many moons ago.
Stimmung is structured around an electronically sustained drone that is sounded throughout the work's duration. Anchored around B flat, the drone contains the complex harmonic overtone series around which Stockhausen constructs his constantly generating sound world of rarefied timbres and ethereal melodies. He provides embryonic melodic cells and fragments of text, arranged in 51 'Models', leaving the singers to embellish this given material during the performance.
It's probably more accurate to say that Stimmung is 'realised' than 'performed'.
If this all sounds rather academic then the result is actually one of the most gorgeous vocal soundscapes in all 20th-century music. Hillier's Theatre of Voices operate at such a refined level of specialised technique that radically new expressive territory emerges. Standard vocal delivery feels superseded by loops of vocalised harmonics, tactile humming and, as the piece nears its conclusion, a catchy whistled refrain that calmly draws threads together. Stockhausen's flexi-notation blurs the supply and demand chain that usually defines composer and performer relationships.
The musicians are licensed to define the micro as they transform and deliberate over the material. They converse and explore, and an enigmatic piece-specific discipline is created. A thrilling and important performance.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010