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Friedrich Goldmann: Four Trios One Quartet

Macro is hardly what one would call a classical label, so one might well wonder what a collection of full-blooded chamber music is doing on the Berlin label. It's an easy question to answer: classical composer Friedrich Goldmann (1941-2009) is the late father of Stefan Goldmann, one of Macro's figureheads. But ultimately the appearance of Four Trios One Quartet on the imprint shouldn't be seen as a matter of nepotism, but more a fulfillment of the label's desire to celebrate the elder Goldmann's accomplishments as a composer and introduce listeners to a representative sampling of his output. No family connection is needed to argue for the project when the quality of the work as presented is so evident, and consistent with that Macro has given the release a lavish presentation: housed within a sturdy box are a CD and forty-eight-page booklet featuring in-depth essays (in English and German) by Björn Gottstein and Bruno Santos.

Some background detail helps set the scene: Goldmann, a one-time Stockhausen student, attended the Dresden Conservatory, the Akademie der Künste, and Humboldt University where friendships with composers such as Heiner Müller and Luigi Nono developed. As Goldmann's career advanced, he conducted many orchestras and ensembles (including the Berliner Philharmoniker) and composed chamber works, symphonies, solo concertos, orchestral pieces, and an opera. Recordings of his own works were released as well as performances by other composers (Stockhausen, Henze, Rihm) on labels such as Deutsche Grammophon, Nova, and RCA. Goldmann's composing style evolved over time, such that early works produced using serialist and cluster techniques were ultimately dismissed by him. Eventually he embraced an holistic approach that promotes continuums within musical structures and the overcoming of seeming antagonisms between layers of material. While he wasn't anti-intellectual, Goldmann favoured dedicated listening over micro-analysis of a work's core and believed that his works could speak perfectly well on their own behalf.

The seventy-eight-minute collection presents five works in chronological order, from the 1986 Trio (Four Pieces) to 2004's Calmo, esitando un po' (calm, a little hesitant). In the Trio (Four Pieces) for Viola, Violoncello, and Double Bass, a single tone acts as an explorative springboard, one of Goldmann's goals being to show that a single tone isn't a fixed entity at all, contrary to traditional assumptions. In the opening of the four parts, different string-related techniques, tremoli and microtonality among them, are applied to show the myriad ways by which a tone might unfold. With the three voices moving in parallel, the less agitated second piece exudes a rather sombre mien by comparison; the short third reinstates the energized character of the first, though this time focusing on serpentine interactions between the three instruments, while the fourth returns to the spirit of the second with a subdued series of ghostly expressions.

Twelve years later, Goldmann followed that trio with another, the Trio Nr. 2 for Oboe, Violoncello, and Piano. In contrast to the Webern-like condensation of the first trio's parts, the 1998 setting's singular movement extends dramatically across twenty-four minutes. An at times passionate dialogue enacted by three fundamentally dissimilar voices, the piece advances through multiple passages of contrasting character, among them lyrical, conflicting, and playful. Like combatants, the instruments sometimes confront one another aggressively and in the next moment secede, as if readying themselves for the next challenge.

Many memorable qualities mark the Quartet for Oboe, Violin, Viola, and Violoncello (2000), the spellbinding way by which the four voices repeatedly fan out from an originating cell among them. Tremoli, trills, and microtonality are in plentiful supply, as are impressionistic fluttering and sinuosity. The instrumentation deployed also accounts for a great part of the piece's impact when it's structured in such a way that the oboe operates as the central presence, with the strings coiling around it. Contrasts of timbre are also obviously fundamental to Calmo, esitando un po' for Clarinet, Violoncello, and Accordion, with Goldmann allowing the inherent properties of the instruments' voices to mark out individual territory. Four Trios One Quartet isn't the only Friedrich Goldmann release currently available, but it is one that speaks effectively on behalf of his chamber writing, and Macro has certainly honoured his memory by bringing this fine collection into the world.

May 2016