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Heiner Goebbels Landschaft mit entfernten Verwandten Review

Album. Released 2008.  

BBC Review

A seductive, sometimes shocking and viscerally exciting musical experience.

Andrew McGregor 2008

It's a seductive, sometimes shocking and viscerally exciting musical experience; the premier recording of an unconventional opera that made a major impact at its premiere in Geneva in 2002. Landschaft mit entfernten Verwandten translates as 'Landscape with distant relatives', and trying to describe it is a bit of a nightmare…not least because Goebbels himself doesn't exactly revel in unpicking his music in front of critics and audiences. "What drives the attention of an audience is the unforeseeable, and the secrets and mystery of a performance", he says…and ECM provides no explanatory notes at all; all the texts, yes; but each in its original language, with no translation. 'Suck it and see' seems to be principle at work here, and you should. But here are a few pointers.

Goebbels has talked before about exploring the 'landscapes' of different texts, and here he's identified radically different writers as the 'distant relatives' of the title: Giordano Bruno, Arthur Chapman, Henri Michaux, Leonardo da Vinci, T S Eliot – whose Triumphal March from Coriolan is snarling, savage battery of warfaring imagery, matched with onstage drums and declamations. And there's Gertrude Stein, whose stream-of-consciousness narratives are taken from her 1945 book, Wars I Have Seen, and they seem to be the glue that holds these separate tableaux together. The other connective tissue is the subject matter, and the inspiration. Goebbels has let it be known that this 'Landscape…' was partly motivated by his reactions to the terrorist attacks of 9/11and there's an unmistakeable sense of the composer seeking parallels in political struggles and the ambiguous relationship between art and reality across different times and cultures. He provides sounds to set these similarities and conflicts in sharp relief: instruments from renaissance music, from the middle east, musical themes from Bollywood, and a country & western campfire.

This is a recording taken from live performances in France in October 2004. The photos in the notes give an idea of the impact Goebbel's opera has on stage, but the images seem to sear the mind, even off CD. A stunning achievement, and a haunting experience.

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