Don’t Follow Lieders

Uli Rennert
Von Den Göttern Weiss Ich Nichts
PAN TAU-X pt-x 107 CD (2014)

I don’t recall hearing too many mezzosopranos on The Sound Projector playlist, so this release has novelty value, if nothing else. You don’t just get a mezzosoprano for your money, either, for this is “Musik für Mezzosopran, Sprecher, Instrumente und Live-Elektronik”, a suite of compositions on the theme of deity by German-born, Austrian-resident musician Uli Rennert. The title translates as something like “concerning the gods I have no means of knowing”, a quote attributed the pre-Socratic philosopher Protagoras, in case you were wondering.

Rennert’s background is in jazz, but this album finds him in modern chamber music mode. Taking each element in turn, the “Mezzosopran” is his daughter Sophie, and a fine, beautiful, expressive voice she has too. This is probably the most immediately attractive feature of the whole album, assuming, of course, that you enjoy female singing in the operatic style.

The “Sprecher” part of the equation refers to spoken recitations of texts by such diverse figures as Pablo Picasso and Martin Luther. Combined with the sung interludes, the whole effect is like chancing upon some avant-garde German radio play, the sort of thing that you might hear on a crackly transistor in a second-hand bookshop on a wet winter’s afternoon, whilst the proprietor glowers at you for having the temerity to come into the shop. At least, that’s the vibe I get.

The “Instrumente” are a blend of strings and woodwinds, providing solid and sympathetic accompaniment to the voices. I did, however, find myself singing “I Feel Pretty” from “West Side Story” after listening to this – disconcerting, until I realised that one of Rennert’s tracks seemed to use the first four notes of Bernstein’s song as a repeating motif. Concerning the “Live-Elektronik” I have no means of knowing, as they’re a pretty subtle part of the mix. A closer listen would reveal more details, I’m sure.

What we have here, then, is rigorously composed and professionally played art music. I can certainly appreciate it at that level, and I’m glad that music like this is being produced in the world, but personally, I found the whole thing a little too austere to really grab me.

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