Walter Fähndrich: Viola. Walter Fähndrich. ECM 1412 841 945-2 (1991), barcode 042284194525
Recorded November 1989 at the Blumenstein Church, Pohlern, Switzerland
Fascinating sonic exploration
8 April 2018
This is a chance encounter, an eBay seller was offering this among other things I was interested in, I had never heard of Walter Fähndrich. He happens to be a Swiss violist and composer, born in 1944, not reputed enough to get an entry on Wikipedia (even in German), steeped in electro-acoustic music and Far Eastern music, and apparently active more in sound installations in galleries and other spaces than in the traditional modes of commission, production and performance of contemporary music. He’s got a website, and it says it all: musicforspaces (link will open new tab).
“Viola” is not exactly a “new” piece: it was recorded in 1989. It’s a great find, in its daring and inventive exploration of a novel and fascinating sound-world. It looks like a cycle of pieces, since the CD features Viola II, III, IV and VI. Other than Fähndrich’s timeline (up to 1990), the liner notes (by a Bruno Steiger) are in German only, and from what I can make up of them they are more “poetic” than explanatory and informative, and I rapidly lose patience for that kind of twaddle, in any language. So I don’t know why IV repeats (track 1 and 5), with what seems to be an extended coda at the end of track 5, and what happened with I and V.
Anyway, Fähndrich’s viola is evocative of Salvatore Sciarrino’s masterful Capricci for solo violin in its exploration of harmonics and other-worldly sounds (Viola IV track 1), sometimes evocative of American repetitive minimalism (Viola II track 2), but it doesn’t mock the gestures and frequent cheap sentimentality of repetitive minimalism. It is the frenetic insects of Crumb’s “Black Angels” for electrified string quartet that come to mind in Viola III (track 3), and Feldman’s or Lachenmann’s non-repetitive minimalism – music at the threshold of silence – in Viola VI and the second Viola IV (tracks 4 & end of 5 starting at 9:35). The cycle fittingly ends by tapering off in what sounds like heavy breathing, but is probably produced with the instrument (bow on wood, or so softly on strings that they don’t vibrate, or wooden part of bow on strings, something like that).
Those comparisons are drawn only to give the reader a notion of what to expect, not to imply that Fähndrich’s invention is derivative of anyone. He conjures a completely personal and fascinating sound world. This is as important a cycle for the viola as Sciarrino’s Capricci is for the solo violin. Violists, fans of contemporary music, don’t miss it: it proves that there is still a lot fascinating to invent for time-hallowed instruments. Makes me rue that there’s so little of Fähndrich’s music on CD. I’ve already ordered his Räume / Spaces, on Unit Records, barcode 7619942412425. TT 62 minutes.