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THOMAS LARCHER: THE LIVING MOUNTAIN     ECM New Series 2723

Austrian composer Thomas Larcher’s new album features premiere recordings of three strongly contrasting works.

The Living Mountain, composed 2019-20, draws inspiration from Scottish poet and nature writer Nan Shepherd’s book of the same name. Having grown up in Tyrol and familiar with mountain landscapes, Larcher was taken by Shepherd’s unique approach to the topic in her memoir, and “how completely different it is from all the other literature touching upon this subject. There’s a particularly palpable connection between her introspection and the nature that surrounds her, the microscopic details that are elaborated in that context. Being able to identify with her writing as much as I did, reading the book turned into my own introspective journey and immediately sparked the musical connotations that I elaborate in my piece”.

In the piece, motifs are bound to thunderous percussive crescendos and insistent note repetitions that frame the powerful and evocative vocal performance of Sarah Aristidou. Besides the relation to Nan Shepherd’s text, Larcher’s piece also draws from a series of photographs by Dutch photographer Awoiska van der Molen – landscape pictures taken in the mountains of Tyrol that were first published alongside the premiere of Larcher’s piece in 2022. Van der Molen and the composer felt a deep affinity with each other’s work from the start – work “characterized by the slowness of analogue composing and photography as well as constraint through erasing and concealing of content.”

The act of concealment, of leaving things unsaid, is the keyword of Larcher’s setting of German author W.G. Sebald’s Unerzählt (composed 2019-20). A song cycle performed by baritone Andrè Schuen and pianist Daniel Heide, Unerzählt is composed of thirteen sparsely designed miniatures that underscore Schuen’s expressive range. Unerzählt presents its miniatures in a very pure and concentrated way, with their enigmatic appeal leaving much freedom for interpretation.

On Ouroboros, an instrumental work in three movements for violoncello and orchestra, cellist Alisa Weilerstein draws compelling lines against the backdrop of the Munich Chamber Orchestra’s cluster harmonies and the pointillist accompaniment of pianist Aaron Pilsan. The second movement, Allegro infuriato, true to its tempo indication, is a storm of sonic fury.

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Described by Alex Ross in The New Yorker as “an unpredictable, freethinking composer, who has set aside the modernist strictures that have long governed Central European music”, Thomas Larcher, was born in Innsbruck in 1963, and studied composition and piano in Vienna. His ECM recordings include Naunz (2001), Ixxu (2006) and Madhares (2011).

Andrè Schuen grew up in South Tyrol, where he played cello before studying singing at the University Mozarteum Salzburg. He is today one of the most sought-after baritones, performing in opera houses across the world, such as the Bavarian State Opera, the Vienna State Opera, Royal Opera House Covent Garden and others. More recently, Schuen “made big waves”, to quote the Swiss daily Neue Züricher Zeitung, at the Salzburger Festspiele 2023 for his part as Count Almaviva in Mozart’s La Nozze Di Figaro.

The French-Cypriot soprano Sarah Aristidou is an award-winning interpreter of both contemporary music and core opera repertoire. In 2022/23, Aristidou she made her debut at Semperoper Dresden under Omer Meir Wellber as Zerbinetta in Richard Strauss’sAriadne auf Naxos. In the same year she also made her debut at the Bavarian State Opera.

American violoncellist Alisa Weilerstein’s commitment to new music has been recognized with a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant”. She has worked extensively with composers Osvaldo Golijov, Lera Auerbach and Joseph Hallman, among others.

The Münchner Kammerorchester’s association with ECM began in 2000. Since then the orchestra has recorded music of Mansurian, Hartmann, Bach, Webern, Scelsi, Hosokawa, Isang Yun, Barry Guy and more. In 2011 they also contributed to Larcher’s Madhares album.

The Living Mountain and Ouroboros were recorded in June 2021 and Unerzählt in May 2022. The album was produced by Manfred Eicher.

CD booklet include photographs from Awoiska van der Molen’s ‘The Living Mountain’ series and liner notes by Friedrike Gösweiner.

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