ChorWerk Ruhr / Ensemble Modern / Rupert Huber

Wolfgang Rihm: Vigilia

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German composer Wolfgang Rihm is undeniably a modernist, but his music is unpredictably eclectic, and a work like Vigilia (2006), for mixed voices and chamber ensemble, is emotionally transparent enough that it could be used effectively in a liturgical setting. Lasting an hour, it alternates seven instrumental sections ("Sonatas") with seven motets, some a cappella and some accompanied, and it culminates in a Miserere that constitutes about a quarter of its length. The Latin texts, derived from Biblical texts relating to Good Friday, are somber and mostly contemplative. The tone of the whole piece, while expressive of the solemn character of the story, is colorfully varied, with movements sufficiently differentiated that the mood of grief conveyed is never monolithic or monotonous. Rihm uses recognizable choral conventions, particularly Renaissance polyphony, to give the music a familiar emotional anchor, although his harmonic language is wide-ranging, from the use of modes to dense, contemporary clusters. His uninhibited appropriation of earlier and modern traditions, while filtered through his sophisticated individual style, gives the music an engaging expressive freedom and spontaneity. The work receives a terrific performance from two of Europe's most accomplished new music groups, Ensemble Modern and ChorWerk Ruhr. Rupert Huber leads them through the treacherously difficult score with assurance and gives each movement and the work as a whole a meaningful directional arc. The sound of the SACD is warm and ambient.

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