In 1981 Josef Herowitsch, a pastor in the Austrian village of Lockenhaus, invited violinist Gidon Kremer to create a chamber music festival there. Looking back on thirty years of festivals, Kremer recently commented, “I never dared to hope that my vision would become a perennial lodestar for lovers of chamber music all over the world.” Not only was this vision fulfilled; but also it was fulfilled through the work of some of the finest chamber musicians of our era, all of whom seemed to share an adventurous passion for a broad scope of repertoire.
ECM New Series has decided to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the founding of this chamber music festival with Edition Lockenhaus, a 5-CD box set of recordings from 1981, 1982, 1984, 1985, and 1986, along with two unreleased recordings from 2001 and 2008 of the Kremerata Baltica. This title will be available on October 24 and may currently be pre-ordered from Amazon.com. Just about every selection in the collection has its own way of pushing the envelope for how we think about chamber music, even to the point of offering two large-scale works requiring a conductor. Thus, the very first CD in the collection begins with “Metamorphosen,” Richard Strauss’ “study” for 23 solo strings (ten violins, five violas, five cellos, and three basses), all conducted by Simon Rattle (with Kremer as first-chair violin). The other conducted composition (this time by Roman Kofman) is Olivier Messiaen’s Trois petites Liturgies de la Présence Divine, in which the intense devotion of his personal faith found expression through a children’s choir and the other-worldly sounds of the ondes Martenot.
The composer who receives the most attention in this collection is Dmitri Shostakovich; but that attention is distributed across a diverse profile of the composer’s accomplishments, including two of his late string quartets, Opus 138 in B-flat minor and Opus 142 in F-sharp major. However, from a personal point of view, I was probably most impressed by the decision to devote an entire disc to three compositions by Erwin Schulhoff, an extraordinary composer from the turbulent years of the early twentieth century, now receiving more recognition but virtually unknown in those first five years of the Lockenhaus Festival.
Edition Lockenhausis thus as valuable an addition to the library of recorded chamber music as the Festival has been to our appreciation of the broad scope of the repertoire. The isolation of Lockenhaus provided an ideal setting for performers to approach music from the fringes of the repertoire with all the attention necessary to give accounts that were not only credible but stunningly compelling. These are recordings that remind us of just how enjoyable that sense of adventure can be, and they may well even win over listeners who thought that they were never that all interested in chamber music.