Mauricio Kagel is modernist whose music is easy to love. The program booklet's graphic layout and notes for the percussion setup for Kagel's Serenade are a perfect illustration of the composer's playfulness, the profligacy of his inventiveness, and his disregard for convention of any kind. The setup includes, among many other things, hurdy-gurdy, toy piano, singing saw, coconut shells, bottle with small steel balls, steel drums, bird whistle, water to slap with the palm of the hand, and best of all, a "bag with flowers (under the table)." Most of the instruments are easy to identify, but the listener is left in the dark about how the flowers under the table are used; it makes one long for a live performance to see how the composer deploys them. The sweet and whimsical Serenade, which also calls for a flutist and a plucked string player, each using a variety of instruments, is a magical depiction of a lover who has been driven silly by love.
Quirinus' Liebeskuss, for speaking chorus and instrumental ensemble, has a more serious topic -- its text is taken from an apocalyptic seventeenth century litany made up almost entirely of single-syllable nouns, very occasionally punctuated by a verb or article or preposition. It's not immediately evident what it all has to do with a kiss of love, but that's the title Quirinus gave it, and Kagel's setting manages to make it truly ominous without resorting to heavy-handedness. In the Double Sextet, written for only the highest and lowest wind and string instruments, the composer sets out to create a "well-made" piece, according to the classical model, starting with a single idea and using it as the germ for generating the entire piece. Kagel's irrepressible invention confounds the listener's expectations at every turn, and the result sounds as loopy and unpredictable as his less structured pieces. The Schönberg Ensemble and Nederlands Kamerkoor conducted by Reinbert de Leeuw perform with tremendous energy and wit. The sound quality is pristine.