last month, German mezzosoprano Dietburg Spohr founded this vocal ensemble in 1986, and this was their first ECM New Series release. Spohr formed Ensemble Belcanto to fill a gap that she saw, that of a group of female voices concentrating on new music. They'd go on to delve way back into the medieval on a 2013 album of Hildegaard von Bingen's music, but before that came this July 2000 recording of four 1990s works that had been written for the group.
The first of these is a four-part suite by Haim Alexander (1915-2012), of settings of poems by Else Lasker-Schüler (1869-1945), who Alexander had met when both were German-Jewish exiles in Jerusalem. The complex wordplay of these four excerpts from Lasker-Schüler's final published volume, Mein blaues Klavier, is rendered in wonderful dramatic shapes by Alexander and by Ensemble Belcanto's voices and percussion.
Next up are two short pieces: Konrad Boehmer (1941-2014), who was posted here way back in electroacoustic mode, contributes a great exercise in minature polyphony, set to the text of Un Monde Abandoneé des Facteurs by Michel Robic. Fabrizio Casti's (b. 1960) mournful, acapella setting of Cesare Pavese's post-apocalyptic desolation gives this album its title. Closing the album in memorable style is the 18-minute Séraphin-Stimmen by Wolfgang Rihm (b.1952). Influenced by Artaud, the clave-punctuated wordless piece is a madrigal of sorts, with haunting gaps of virtual silence. Séraphin-Stimmen was by far my favourite piece here, but the whole album hangs together very well and makes for rewarding repeat-listens.
mega / zippy