It may be true that Karlheinz Stockhausen's Gruppen for three orchestras (1955-1957) can only be appreciated in concert, where the ensembles' placement around the audience can be seen, the constantly shifting tone colors can be heard clearly, and the communication of musical material between the groups can be understood, just as the composer intended. Unfortunately, most listeners only have access to recordings to judge this elaborate, multi-dimensional work, and there are too few of those available to worry how best to hear it. This 2006 Budapest Music Center release of Gruppen, performed by the WDR Sinfonie Orchester Köln and conducted by Péter Eötvös, Arturo Tamayo, and Jacques Mercier, is an admirable effort, with a wide dynamic range, crisp articulation, and brilliant sound, and the recording is meticulously engineered to give a reasonable impression of the spatial relationships. However, Stockhausen's kaleidoscopic ideas in Gruppen, and the pointillistic effects in the less familiar Punkte (1952-1962), create the effect of myriad chamber groups at play, so much of the action on the large orchestral scale seems hard to comprehend when one gets immersed in the small details. Eötvös' version has significant competition from the past, namely, the 2000 reissue on Stockhausen-Verlag of the 1968 Deutsche Grammophon recording by Michael Gielen, and the 1996 rendition by Claudio Abbado, also on DG. But this is a vibrant and exciting performance, and considering the relative scarcity of all recordings of Gruppen, Stockhausen fans should snap up this CD if at all possible. This intense work deserves a place in any well-rounded collection of twentieth century classics.
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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson