The two-disc Szenen, Standbilder (“Scenes, Stills”, Edition RZ) constitutes a career overview of German composer Michael Reudenbach’s work over nearly two decades, highlighting the aesthetic of pared-back concentration or distillation that characterises his style.
After early training in ecclesiastic music, Reudenbach studied composition and interpretation, the latter under Philippe Herreweghe. He also studied under the German composers Helmut Lachenmann and Mathias Spahlinger. Neither the former’s interest in musique concrète nor the latter’s sympathy for jazz and improvisation seem to have overtly informed Reudenbach’s own work, but I suspect it was through Spahlinger that the austere yet emotionally visceral, reductionist style of Anton Webern came to exert its influence.
The twelve pieces collected on Szenen, Standbilder were composed between the years 1991 and 2010, and recorded during the same period by nine different groups or performers in ten different sessions.
Reudenbach seems to conceive of his compositions in terms of the palettes afforded by specific combinations of instrumental tones and textures. Accordingly, although “Mirlitonnades” (for solo piccolo flute) is named for a book of poems by Samuel Beckett, and “Ahto” for a mythological god of waters, his titles more often reflect compositional essentials.
Much of this music seems extemporal, its organisational structures apparently containing and suppressing musical activity as much as directing it. Interpretation presumably requires the mastery of extended techniques in order to realise each piece’s distilled and precisely choreographed gestures. The piece for piccolo flute, for instance, features a remarkable performance by Ensemble L’Art’s Astrid Schmeling.
Reudenbach’s writing for voices exemplifies his mastery of expressive nuance, even when those voices’ expressivity is restricted to inarticulate alveolar or breath sounds, as on “Kommen – überschreibungen für 5 stimmen”.
Where the String Quartet of 2004 is strikingly austere and reductive, other pieces are replete with orchestrated incident. On “Schnitt & Fortsetzung” (“Cut & Continuation”), feathery fluting suggests a shadowy, darting intelligence at play in quicksilver reactions to sudden irruptions of fragile percussives. There’s a tension here between an undertow of timpani, softly insistent flute, and fragile soundings of harp, guitar, and piano strings.
On “Duo Pianism”, moments of agitation are framed by the silences from which those incidences break, and by which they are ultimately subsumed. The paring of compositions back to their elemental basics is an approach that gives each of Reudenbach’s highly individuated compositions a pleasing consanguinity, and as this album unfolds, there’s a sense of close relation or connectedness between compositions, although its sequencing isn’t chronological.
Buy Szenen, Standbilder direct from Edition RZ.