If you tend to avoid contemporary music on the argument that much of it seems dark, pessimistic, and discordant, then on the face of it there might seem plenty of reason to steer clear of this work by German composer Aribert Reimann
. But think again. The darkness and pessimism that seize Reimann's legendary masterpiece from the very outset so compellingly match the mood of Shakespeare's haunting drama
that it's almost impossible not to find yourself drawn into the tale afresh. Yes, the tortured strings, battering brass, cascading percussion, and anguished vocal lines make it a tough listen, but as with any new operatic adventure, paying close attention to the libretto focuses the mind and schools the ear.
And there could be no better introduction to Lear than this--vividly recorded, culled from live performances at the National Theatre in Munich in the year of the opera's premiere there, 1978. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (who prompted Reimann to take on the project) is predictably magnificent in the title role, master of every nuance, but his is just one of a string of outstanding vocal contributions, from Rolf Boysen's remarkable Fool to Julia Varady's passionate Cordelia. Try this--but maybe not alone and late at night. --Andrew Green