50 Years and Five CDs with Wergo's 'Music of Our Time'

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Fifty years ago, art historian Werner Goldschmidt and musicologist Helmut Kirchmayer joined forces to capture the musical zeitgeist swirling around Europe in the early 1960s. Half a century later, Wergo Records (the first two letters of Goldschmidt’s first and last names) continues to support composers who shape and re-shape the contours of contemporary music.

The format may have changed (Cage was a lot sexier on LP), but the game remains very much the same for Wergo, which remains a home for curious listeners, adventurous performers and experimental composers. In between past and present, however, the label boasted many coups and revisits some of those early home runs on its golden anniversary box-set, Music of Our Time.

The label celebrated 40 years of operations in a similar way and under a similar title, assembling reissues by Rihm, Ligeti, Cage and Stockhausen into a four-disc set.  Here, Stockhausen and Cage make return visits. The latter is represented on the Quatuor Hêlios’s 1989 collection of percussion works, which brought together guest artists like pianist Isabelle Berteletti for works like Amores and She is Asleep (the disc also features the Cage-Harrison mashup, Double Music). And Stockhausen gets his due with Ensemble Recherche under Rupert Huber offering up spine-tingling accounts of works like Zeitmasze, Kontra-Punkte and Refrain.

Wergo goes back even further, however, with the Kontarsky brothers (Alfons and Aloys), who spent much of the 20th Century bringing their own brand of sibling revelry to new works and upstart composers like Stravinsky. As we move further from the time when Igor was causing riots with his music, hearing the Kontarskys tear into the Sonata for Two Pianos or Concerto for Two Solo Pianos serves as an excellent reminder of the composer’s brash, iconoclastic spirit, fresh as it was when it was originally laid on vinyl.

Also new to the boxed set game are Ensemble UnitedBerlin and United Voices with a compendium of Luigi Nono works like Canciones a Guiomar and Canti per 13. Dieter Schnebel also gets fair play in a pairing of his Choralvorspiele I/II and Atemzüge laid down by the likes of Interpretens Darmstadt, organist Gerd Zacher and Schnebel himself. It’s hard to siphon fifty years of musicmaking into five recordings, but here is an unbeatable taste of the works championed early on in the game by this vital label. Audio is longer available.

Audio is longer available.