GERHARD STABLER “Zeichen” = (Gefahrliche Rander, Grauzonen, Auf Messers Schneide) – Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra/ Vit Micka – Navona Records NV5839, 21:10 [Distr. by Naxos] ***:
The opening few measures of each movement of Gerhard Stabler’s “Zeichen” (‘Indication’) actually did remind me of Bernard Herrmann’s classic film score to the Hitchcock film, “Psycho” with its slightly dissonant slashing violin pulses. I admit this while freely recognizing that most readers now have an aural reference but also recognizing that it is quite unlikely that this is what Stabler intended. Actually, there are other moments in each of the movements that are reminiscent of Penderecki, “Threnody”, as well. The issue here is that Stabler’s use of strident chord patterns, extended glissandi, single pitch bends and various extended string techniques, like col legno throughout, sul tasto throughout, sul pont throughout, etc. lend themselves to a similarity with almost every other string piece that relies on similar effects. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just that I did not hear anything in “Zeichen”, though, that singles it out and hints at a unique compositional voice.
In looking at Gerhard Stabler’s website, he does seem like a fascinating person and composer, who has worked at the computer music center in Stanford University (in 1983 and 1986) and even served as a composer in residence at Northwestern University in 1992. His music has been featured on the BBC Radio’s “Hear and Now”. His music does sound very carefully and methodically structured. “Zeichen”, from 2007, does use the extended techniques mentioned and each successive movement brings the strings closer together harmonically to build clusters and blocks of pitch that break down gradually until the piece ends with a single persistent pitch that seems to die out. The sections are title, “Gefahrliche Rander” (more dangerous), “Grauzonen” (Gray areas) and “Auf Messers Schneide” (in/on measured cuts). The disc is an enhanced CD and the digital booklet goes into greater detail regarding the composer’s vision as well as supplies a complete score to each of the separate pieces within the whole; this is a real bonus for anyone who can follow while listening.
I did not dislike “Zeichen”. I found it interesting, though – yes – similar to other pieces of the same structural and stylistic genre. What I did find interesting is some of Stabler’s other works that I wish to track down, if they are recorded. In particular, ”energy, light, dream” and “spatial ayres” for soprano, baritone, ensemble and electronics sound really intriguing. So do “Sound Wall” for mixed choir and his opera, the “Cassandra Complex”, all from the timeframe 2000-2005. I have also experienced other recordings from the Navona studios as well as contemporary music from the Moravian Philharmonic under Vit Micka. Performances are always top notch and the sound engineering and production values are great. “Zeichen” is a fairly short work, just under twenty-two minutes, but the disc is not priced as if it were an hour, either.
I cannot claim that this particular work is one of the most attention getting newer orchestral works I have heard lately. However, this piece as well as the extremely well done packaging and extras do make me curious to learn more about Gerhard Stabler. That’s part of the intent, is it not?
— Daniel Coombs