Difficult, but ultimately rewarding music
G.D. | Norway | 12/11/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Günter Bialas (1907-1995) is probably not a household name to most people, but an excellent composer. The song-play "Aus der Matratzengruft" is one of his last works (premiered when the composer was 85) and is a comment, or perspective, on the, at that time (and possibly still, but in other ways), pressing issue of German unity (especially through the setting of "Wintermärchen"). The framework is Heine's eight last painful years as an invalid, a situation he himself described as being imprisoned in the "mattress crypt", and the texts and songs he produced during that time. Bialas' setting is not a dramatic or operatic one, but a reinterpretation of Heine's text, underlining the mockery and derision hiding behind the apparently archetypically romantic poetry.
The theme of this "singspiel" is slow death, and it certainly makes for uncomfortable listening. Structurally, it is a cycle of scenes in four parts incorporating a collage of Heine texts interspersed with recital parts (an old Heine reflecting on his younger, stronger self). The musical language is stringent and compact; complex but precise (shorn of any extraneous elements) and never marked by even a hint of sentimentality. It does not espouse avant-gardism per se and there are tonal points of reference, but this is probably as far from easy listening as you can possibly get.
Performances are as good as you could hope for, and sound quality fine. This is really serious, difficult music, so the impatient is hereby warned. Those who persevere will have a harrowing but artistically eminently worthwhile experience. And to the latter these discs can be given a solid recommendation."