Monday, September 21, 2009

Max Neuhaus - Four Realizations of Stockhausen's Zyklus (Alga Marghen, 2004)

Perhaps the biggest regret people having regarding Max Neuhaus' life is how little of it was captured to tape. I certainly am guilty of this lament and would without a doubt leap at an opportunity to hear any uncovered remnants of the late mastermind's work. Still, there is a certain magic to his concise representation, as if there really weren't much more one could ask him to do to prove himself. In fact, I dare say you could reduce his recorded output to these recordings of Stockhausen's No. 9 Zyklus for One Percussionist and his Fontana Mix-Feed and walk away downright impressed with and even intimidated by Neuhaus. Both are powerful testaments to his mind, with Fontana Mix-Feed showing his more practical side and Zyklus giving insight into his composure under pressure.

Stockhausen composed Zyklus in 1959 to be performed in percussion competitions, with its debut realization given by Christoph Caskel the same year. The piece is built around a spiral bound score with no defined start or orientation--the performer would choose where to begin and whether to read left to right or right to left--set to end when one meets back at the beginning note. To perform it, a twenty-one piece array of percussion instruments is set up in a circle, corresponding to the same spiral that forms the score. Though intended to be performed spontaneously, the three performers at the time who had successfully played Zyklus did so by making the decisions in advance and working out their own score.

Neuhaus, being Neuhaus, took the bait and did it right. His notorious problem solving ability came into play, working out the necessary techniques, but never the actual sequence of performance. One can only be so nimble minded. He first performed the piece for his graduation recital from Manhattan School of Music. At least a year separates each of these four performances, each starting at a new point within the score, each with a pace all its own. You can hear how Neuhaus' approach and confidence in playing the Zyklus evolved over time, though in each there lies a spontaneity by far serving the piece justice. The corresponding dates and locations are as follows:
1. Wergo Records Studios, 1963
2. Carnegie Recital Hall, NYC, 1964
3. West Deursche Rundfunk Studios, Cologne, Germany, 1965
4. Columbia Records Studios, NYC, 1968


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