Rolf Riehm

Rolf Riehm: MacHandelboom

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Rolf Riehm: MacHandelboom Review

by James Manheim

English speakers grow up with bowdlerized versions of German fairy tales, the original versions of which might well bring down the wrath of watchdog organizations were anyone to try to read them publicly in the U.S. Take Machandelboom, for instance, especially as set in 1982 as a sort of radio play by German avant-garde composer Rolf Riehm (born 1937). The tale deals with a child who is killed, served up in a stew by his evil stepmother, and finally brought back to life by a bird. The hearer of Riehm's piece could be forgiven for thinking that only Germans could come up with something as unpleasant as this, but Riehm for the most part is only as unpleasant as his material. The story itself pulls you along through a kaleidoscopic musical setting, constantly and rapidly rotating through a female chorus, passages of free jazz saxophone, electronically distorted guitar, a boy soprano, a strangely played flute representing the bird, and other strange soundscapes. Speech and sound alternate in completely unexpected ways, and the language of the fairly tale switches off between standard High German and Low German dialect. The action of the story is delivered partly by a narrator and partly by the characters involved -- and units of syntax are divided up among several individuals or groups of individuals. The music is never boring in the least, and although you might want to avoid playing it for your kids, who knows? Kids are open-minded and hard to shock. The occasion for a new realization of the piece was likely the chance to record it as a Super Audio CD, which has been accomplished here with sonically spectacular results.

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