After a string of fine Helmut Lachenmann releases on several labels specializing in contemporary classical music, notably Audivis Montaigne, Schwankungen Am Rand (Fluctuations at the Edge) marks his debut on ECM New Series, and the "notoriously difficult" composer celebrates the occasion by providing an admirably clear introductory essay to his works. The title track, subtitled "Music for Brass and Strings" (somewhat misleading, as percussion instruments, notably two pianos and four specially designed thunder sheets, play a prominent role), was completed in 1975, but has lost none of its power to surprise, both in terms of its sound material (apart from the thunder sheets, Lachenmann's "instrumentation" also includes crumpled wrapping paper) and structure (notably at the four-minute mark where things grind to a halt while the two pianos slowly and repeatedly smash hell out of their top octave). The Frankfurt-based Ensemble Modern under Péter Eötvös certainly succeeds in what Lachenmann describes as "a final angst-ridden attempt to strike water out of the stone of the dead monument known as 'music'," namely 1984's "Mouvement ( -- vor der Erstarrung)," arguably the composer's most accessible work, and the reading of 1992's austere "'...zwei Gefühle...,' Musik mit Leonardo" (a work better appreciated live, if one has the opportunity) is exemplary. All three works have previously been released -- "Schwankungen..." on Col Legno in a version conducted by Ernest Bour, "Mouvement..." on Kairos (conducted by Hans Zender), and "...zwei Gefühle..." (featuring Lachenmann himself reading Leonardo da Vinci's text) on Accord -- but their availability on the ECM imprint is certainly worth celebrating, as it will hopefully help bring this challenging but rich and rewarding music to a wider public.
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AllMusic Review by Dan Warburton