Reto Bieri’s New Series debut is a brilliant recital for solo clarinet that looks at new developmental possibilities in the ‘language’ of the instrument in modern music. Bieri quotes with approval Heinz Holliger’s statement “My entire relation to music is such that I always try to go to the limits”. Here the Swiss clarinettist has brought together pieces from the border regions of compositional exploration, as well as the pathways that link them. Under examination here are, for instance, the border region “between silence and the birth of sound and noise, a magical region”, touched upon in the music of Salvatore Sciarrino, Heinz Holliger and Gergely Vajda. Then there is the juncture of speech, sprechgesang and melody (referenced in Holliger and Luciano Berio), as well as the border region linking gesture, dance, ritual and game – as in Holliger, Elliott Carter and Péter Eötvös.
In Holliger’s “Contrechant”, the piece that gives Bieri’s album its title, all the regions are illuminated, calling for “a new kind of virtuosity from the player”, a challenge to which Reto Bieri rises. With the exception of the late Luciano Berio, the clarinettist has worked closely with each of the featured composers to realize optimum performance of these pieces. What a fascinating group of composers it is, too: from Elliott Carter – at 102, America’s Grand Old Man of new music – to Gergely Vajda, former student of Eötvös, who wrote “Lightshadow-trembling” when he was only twenty.
Paul Griffiths, in his liner notes, emphasizes the ‘singing’ quality of the performances: “Song. Some of the titles nudge us in that direction – Lied, Contrechant, Rechant – but what makes the conclusion inescapable is the fluency, the nuanced variety of Reto Bieri’s playing. This is indeed song: song without words … song in which sound alone sings”.
Bieri views the choice of pieces for the present album as an extension of the ideal repertoire suggested by the 1995 ECM solo clarinet recording “dal niente” by Eduard Brunner, with music of Lachenmann, Stockhausen, Stravinsky, Boulez, Scelsi and Yun. (Both solo clarinet discs were recorded at Propstei St Gerold, with Manfred Eicher producing). “Contrechant” is destined to prove no less influential. (ECM Records)