CD review: WDR’s Bernd Alois Zimmermann

First published in the Guardian on 25 August, 2016

Zimmermann: Symphony in One Movement etc
WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne/Hirsch

Bernd Alois Zimmermann was an anomaly in 20th century Euro-modernism — not so much because he refused to engage with the big trends, but because he took those trends and went rogue. His ballet suite Giostra Genovese is a weird marvel of anachronism, piles upon piles of quotations and non sequiturs; Music for King Ubu’s Dinner is a ‘ballet noir’ from 1966 that still sounds politically incorrect and bonkers. This WDR album contains both those works plus the Concerto for String Orchestra, all performed with a meticulously menacing, deadpan sense of drama, and the disc opens with the original version of the Sinfonie in einem Satz (1951) in all its lush, surreal, supremely foreboding glory. Zimmermann would later revise the score to make it more concise and regulate the bizarre instrumentation, but the grim organ in the original is marvellously creepy. This music has a terror that shouldn’t be softened, and conductor Peter Hirsch squares up unflinchingly.