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German composer Jörg Widmann (b.1973) is becoming better known outside his native Germany: for example, a residency at the Aldeburgh Festival two years ago and his championing by the Berlin Philharmonic and Rattle at home and on tour have done much to raise his profile. Arche (Ark) is his most ambitious composition to date: it is an evening- length oratorio, commissioned for the inaugural concert at Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie in January 2017, in which the composer unequivocally signals his faith in the world’s future. It’s a big piece with big ideas (an exploration of the relationship between the human and divine) which perhaps inevitably divided the German critics at its premiere. The wide-ranging textual sources (Heine, St Francis of Assisi and the Bible, to name but three) match Widmann’s use of parody technique in his music, which he has honed with great skill. If we think we hear Bach at one moment, then Mahler at the next, and then Widmann himself, then we’d be right: it’s a bit like being presented with the entire range of German art music in one piece. This recording is of the premiere. Hats offto all the performers under Kent Nagano’s forensic direction, and to ECM for making it possible. It’s a terrific achievement for all concerned.

PHILIP REED Read the full review on Agora Classica


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