Semyon Bychkov / WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln

York Höller: Sphären; Der ewige Tag

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German composer York Höller's orchestral cycle Sphären, which won the prestigious Grawemeyer Award in composition in 2010, receives its first recording in this performance with Semyon Bychkov leading WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln. It's an attractive, inventive piece of non-doctrinaire modernism with the appeal to reach fans of contemporary music. Höller's language tends to be dense, but it is colorful, if generally skewed to somber and subdued colors. It has a strong sense of direction and structural clarity, so it is easy to follow and is direct in its impact. Sphären is scored for large orchestra and live electronics, but the electronics are limited largely to the use of sampling, so the piece comes across as essentially as acoustic. Its six movements, written between 2001 and 2006, each relate in some way to the idea of spheres and have descriptive titles ("Songs of the Clouds," "Rain Canon") that help situate the listener and illuminate the music's evocation of specific imagery. The final movement, "Sorrow of the Spheres," written soon after the death of the composer's wife, is not surprisingly the most expressive and emotionally potent. Der ewige Tag, for mixed chorus, large orchestra, and electronics, with texts by Ibn Scharaf, Georg Heym, and Pablo Neruda, inhabits a similar sound world, but is spikier and less immediately communicative. The performances are charged with energy and commitment and bring out the music's high dramatic profile. The sound of the live recordings is good, with minimal extraneous noise.

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