An opera might not be the first thing one would expect from guitarist Burkhard Stangl, known primarily for his ultra-quiet work with Polwechsel as well as his similarly soft solo recordings, but Venusmond, with text by Oswald Egger, is at least superficially as advertised. The recording is in two sections: the first recorded on the observation deck of the Empire State Building with two singers and a speaker accompanied by Stangl, Werner Dafeldecker, and three Americans (Gene Coleman, Kevin Drumm, and the ubiquitous Jim O'Rourke). The other is a more "classical" conglomeration (with a few improvisatory ringers thrown in) recorded in Austria several months later. The New York set (tracks one through five) is lovely and dreamy, the calm text spoken in Austrian and the delicate soprano and baritone duets playing off the serene instrumental accompaniment of plucked electric strings, bass, and bass clarinet. It strikes an evocative balance between late 20th century art song and turn of the century electro-acoustic improvisation. The second session, with an expanded number of vocalists, a chamber orchestra, and a choir, is richer and more varied, the music striking a somewhat more agitated tone, though more as an undercurrent than overtly. The vocal parts still are presented in a generally calm manner, but there is an enticing tension between them and the instrumental accompaniment. This latter includes both "traditional" orchestral sounds as well as various electronic sources played in a style familiar to fans of the Austrian new music scene. There are hints of Xenakis and Penderecki in the structure and arrangements, but Stangl has largely succeeded in carving himself a new and unexpected niche well worth further investigation. Venusmond can be highly recommended both to fans of contemporary electro-acoustic music, as well as to those interested in a possible future direction of opera.
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AllMusic Review by Brian Olewnick