Swiss composer Christoph Delz was a superb pianist who studied composition with Karlheinz Stockhausen and was active as a significant interpreter within the European new music scene of his day. Nonetheless, he also felt a strong affinity with nineteenth century Romanticism and regularly programmed recitals of Liszt, Schumann, Mussorgsky, and other composers of that era. The sense of tension growing from the collision of these disparate realms of influence is felt in Guild's Christoph Delz: Piano Works, a collection performed by Georgian pianist Tamriko Kordzaia. This brings together the opposite ends of Delz's worklist; the piano piece Sils Op. 1 (1975) and the last two pieces he completed before his death from AIDS in 1993: Drei Aufzuge aus "Istanbul" and his elaboration of Franz Schubert's "Reliquie" Sonata.
Sils was inspired by a winter walk on the frozen surface of Sils Lake, located on the Engadin River in Switzerland. Its idiom may strike the listener likewise as rather icy; Delz must have learned his lessons with Stockhausen well, as this piece could pass muster as one of Stockhausen's Klavierstücke of the 1950s. The later pieces show that Delz absorbed and digested his influences more completely than in Sils, but this did not mean a full-scale return to traditional tonality. Rather, Delz pursued an interest in collage, quotation, and fragmentation drawn from his impressions and musical experiences. Istanbul was his last original work, a cantata employing massive forces that served for Delz as an allegory for all cultures of the world coming together in one place. The Drei Aufzuge aus "Istanbul" are three excerpts from this work as arranged for piano, and demonstrates that in his use of collage techniques, Delz did not seek greater density of texture but to realize a sense of inner peace, perhaps even a measure of "truth." Delz's "completion" of the Schubert "Reliquie" is the most radical and pleasing of the pieces on Christoph Delz: Piano Works. The first two movements stand as they are, with the unfinished third movement completed almost as Schubert might have wanted it. But in the fourth movement, Delz allows himself free range and pulls together a dazzling collage of Romantic piano mannerisms, even including a snatch of music from Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony. It is an impressive and moving achievement, and one that runs completely against the grain of European post-serialism.
Ironically, it is in the unadorned opening two movements of the Schubert where pianist Kordzaia seems most like a fish out of water. She plays the Schubert in a hard neo-Classical style, fortissimos are LOUD, and she almost makes the genial and sensitive Schubert sound like Prokofiev. However, the point is taken that for a pianist to be able to perform Delz's original work it requires a steely and super-virtuosic technique. To be able to move from this style into the graciousness of Schubert's early Romanticism and back out again requires a level of specialization perhaps only Delz himself cultivated. Christoph Delz: Piano Works is certainly not for general tastes in any way. Nevertheless, it is interesting, poignant, and thought-provoking music that is far more emotionally responsive than is the norm for new music from the old world.