CD review: Wolfgang Rihm’s Et Lux

First published in The Guardian on 9 April, 2015

Minguet Quartett/Huelgas Ensemble (ECM)

From a composer whose vast output plunders the stylistic gamut of Western musical history and then some, here is a single-movement requiem full of clean lines and troubled introspection. Et Lux is a 2009 setting for voices and string quartet in which Wolfgang Rihm dwells on certain phrases of the Latin death mass — particularly the notion of eternal light, which he calls ‘comforting yet deeply disturbing’. The same could be said of Et Lux as a whole.

Tropes waft in from across the ages: this music treads the line of tangibility, with sudden rushes of anger or fondness and the messy half-memories that come with grief. Often the strings complete phrases that the singers can’t seem to summon. Conductor Paul van Nevel doubles the vocal lines to create broad, generous textures that are lovely and lush against the strings’ icy clarity — all qualities that ECM’s engineers are expert at capturing.