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33 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Over the last 30 years, Karlheinz Stockhausen had bought the rights to the greater part of his recordings away from Deutsche Grammophon and other labels. The composer's music, now available only on Stockhausen's own imprint at high prices, was forgotten by many. Stockhausen's death in late 2007 was expected to unleash a wave of new recordings by labels looking to fill the void and no longer feeling constrained to work with a madman. That hasn't quite happened, but EMI has tested the waters by opening its studio vaults with this 2 CD set of recordings from the 1970s.

Several strands of Stockhausen's work are captured here. The single representative of his early serialist work is "Zyklus" for solo percussion (1959), one of those works of 1950s modernism where the performer can decide where to begin the piece and then proceeds in a circle until he comes back the starting point. This may have been amazing at one point, but when I've got the excellent solo percussion works of Xenakis or Norgard at my fingertips, "Zyklus" has little appeal.

In the late Sixties, Stockhausen stopped composing works as such, but rather sought to produce music based on chance. Somtimes, as in "Wach" and "Japan", the performers would have nothing more to go on than a simple text, a paragraph or two, about what frame of mind they should have. This is dreadful music -- there is a demographic for this kind of improv, but it's not even the contemporary classical one. "Spiral" (1968) and "Pole" (1970) involve one or two musicians responding to sounds received by a shortwave radio. Often the works sound like early musique concrete. Sometimes a steady pulse is reached which vaguely resembles the works of Aphex Twin -- Stockhausen's influence on IDM is hugely exaggerated (most producers had never heard his work), but these pieces may nonetheless have an appeal for fans of that genre.

We then move on to late Stockhausen. "Tierkreis" is a collection of melodies inspired by the signs of the Zodiac. These melodies have been performed more often than one would expect, perhaps because performers can offer a piece by a big contemporary composer on their programmes, but not enrage general audiences. Far removed from the dissonance or bleep-bloopiness of earlier Stockhausen, they are innocuous, but on the other hand, these melodies don't seem to really say anything or go anywhere either. The same can be said about "In Freundschaft" (1977), here in its arrangement for trumpet, which is just endless noodling on a "formula".

To me Stockhausen seems to have become a figure much like Stravinsky: enormously talked about over much of the 20th century, hugely inspirational to later composers and fondly remembered for a certain few pieces (as Stravinsky had the "Rite", Stockhausen has "Gruppen" and "Stimmung"), but whose body of work as a whole is rarely explored by even contemporary music afficionados. I'd have to conclude that, yes, it is OK to be a fan of contemporary music and not have much interest in Stockhausen. I'd recommend this EMI release only to those who have heard Stockhausen's music before and are sure they really like it.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on February 3, 2010
The performances on this CD are of the highest order, and the digital mastering from original tapes is excellent. For anyone interested in the most sophisticated musical improvisation imaginable, this CD is impeccable. It also contains works from written out scores, also performed at a transcendental level.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 2009
Please don't listen to harsh criticism of this music. These are fantastic, mystical, otherworldly musical soundscapes, beautifully performed. Some performances make 'Spiral' sound harsh, but these performances bring out the otherworldly beauty in these pieces. As for Stockhaused's mysterious form of improvised music, it's simple. Instead of writing down notes, stockhausen describes his music in words, instructions. The Beatles used the same technique for the orchestral creshendos in 'a Day in the life', and I think Xenakis uses the same technique. So if you like otherworldly mysticism, step into the wonderful world of Stockhausen!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 23, 2010
Apparently ( according to a friend who works at a classical music store) EMI just announced (June 2010) that they are chopping the number of cd titles in half and I doubt this is one of the ones that will survive the purge. The price is great, the music is great, the performances are great and the sound is great. Don't complain when you have to pay $110 for it used.
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