Conductor: Israel Yinon
Orchestra: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Performer: Guido Schiefen (Cello)
Years of recordings: 2009, 2006
SPARS Code: DDD
About the Composer: German composer Tilo Medek (1940-2006) was under the tutelage of Nono and Stockhausen in his early years, yet went on to develop several tonal works, many of which emphasize the darker elements of human life.
About the Music: Scant portions of Medek’s output have been committed to disc, but those adventurous folks at cpo have brought us this recently recorded performance of his 1978 cello concerto, along with a couple of solo cello curiosities from the same decade.
Cello Concerto: Schiefen and the other string artists immediately take on the task of building the momentum for the main theme of the first movement, an oft-repeated passage with an appealing, enigmatic flair. Although Medek intended the movement to represent the concept of vertical ascension, my visualization of the music resembles a horizontal plane; as the brass offers its rendition of the main theme, I imagine myself being steadily escorted through an extensive series of elaborately furnished yet dimly lit hotel hallways. I appreciate how the orchestra reveals its canines at the end of the movement and heightens the intensity.
The second movement begins with chirpy reports from the wind instruments and some benign string plucking, but the other instruments soon make known that they prefer a more suspenseful direction. One might say that the third movement is the obligatory ‘contemplative movement’ of the concerto, but there’s an azure draft present that slides along and keeps one engaged. The last movement is more appealing, as it revolves around a theme that is quite evocative of the sensation of wilting. Orchestral crashes abound not too long afterward, and the resulting debris clutters the concerto’s exit door.
Eine Stele für Bernd Alois Zimmermann: Medek’s memorial to the late German musical tinkerer is as damp and dreary as you would expect. I think some of the string tapping halfway through the piece seems a bit too light for such stark subject matter, but it does provide a respite from the continual cello groaning.
Schattenspiele: This set of five short pieces is more entertaining than the former solo work because Schiefen gets to produce some very peculiar noises for our benefit. The second piece is likely the most compelling, as it includes a recurring wailing that I found to be slightly reminiscent of a fragment from your typical Barron electronic work.
I certainly don’t dislike the Cello Concerto, but I can’t see myself returning to it on a frequent basis. I maintain a similar sentiment towards the other two works, but that may be simply because I’m not particularly giddy about solo string compositions. Regardless, this disc makes me eager to invest a little more time in Medek’s other creations.