Thomas Larcher: IXXU, ECM 2006

Ulrich Schreiber: Moments of Quiescence
Horribly beautiful: Thomas Larcher’s most recent work

Thomas Larcher, who was born in Innsbruck in 1963, is not only a brilliant pianist, but he is also highly esteemed for his management of the Tyrolean Klangspuren Festival, which he launched in 1994. As a composer he profited from being born so late. Growing up in the post-modern, he did not need to do battle with the proscriptive strictures of the 20th century. This freedom led to mixed impressions on “Naunz”, the first compact disc which ECM dedicated exclusively to him, which was comprised of works composed between 1986 and 1999 which foregrounded the piano. Escalations, such as could be found in “Kraken”, were juxtaposed, for instance in the title piece, with comparatively disjunct sequences in a style of new simplicity.

Such differences in quality were not present on his second CD, which was mysteriously entitled “IXXU”. In the chamber pieces composed between 1990 and 2004, Larcher demonstrates a distinctive style which is characterized by a compact structural technique which creates trajectories of tension precisely balancing out obsessive, loud, rapidly repeated single tones and chords with long sustained, soft expanses of sound. In this dramaturgy, the moments of quiescence, in which tonal, mostly minor-tinged passages are also blended in, achieve an intensified seductive and evocative power over the listener.

This is not only true of the two quartets “IXXU” and “Cold Farmer”, interpreted by the Rosamunde Quartet with great intensity and an optimal sound quality, which do not require experimental playing techniques but daringly push the traditional to its very limits. The duet for violoncello and piano “Mumien” also demonstrates similar tranquil moments. Musical mummies have rarely been allowed to communicate with each other (and the audience) in such an agitated manner as in the first two of the three movements.

The cellist Thomas Demenga and the composer on the piano avoid creating the impression of adherence to a genre. This is especially true of the small song cycle “My Illness is the Medicine I Need”, which is orchestrated for high soprano and piano trio. In terms of text, it deals with six sentence fragments from conversations with psychiatric patients from one of the infamous issues of the Benetton magazine “Colors”. The musical spectrum ranges from a seraphic death wish, which vanishes into the highest registers, to the complementary vision of eternal peace expressed in a variegated descending line, or to needle sharp interval leaps which conjure up the promise of the cessation of all sense perception by means of injections.

Each highpoint of expressive precision achieved by the soprano Andrea Lauren Brown, the violinist Christoph Poppen, the cellist Thomas Demenga, and the composer on the piano is a riveting tightrope walk: illness as therapy or the horrible as the beginning of the beautiful.

Quoted from: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. February 20, 2007

Thomas Larcher has a way of convincing you, like Morton Feldman, that every note is in its right place and should be nowhere else. A delicate touch and taut use of dramatic contrast flicker across his compositions, sending out shards of notes and icy silences.

Andi Spicer, Gramophone, December 2006

Thomas Larcher is a new name to me, but then, there are so many names yet to be discovered by all of us. I am glad I have been given the chance to listen to this. Having recently taken the plunge and bought a new old car, I now have a new new CD radio player to go with it. Listening to this while stopped at the lights, window rolled down in the unseasonably warm october weather, turned more heads at the tram stop than any booming heavy disco!

„Ixxu” is in a thoroughly modern idiom, but with moments of shimmering beauty and an overall rhythmic energy which is quite compulsive, there are all the ingredients one needs to make an interesting piece all the more rewarding on repeated hearing. … In his pieces, notions of virtuosity are pursued to the limits, raising the expressive energy another notch in degree and intensity. In “Mumien” this obsessive quality comes through in the intense and rhythmically incessant second movement.

“Cold Farmer” was “like stepping into the unknown and the threatening” for the composer … There are some folk-like elements in the violin, some Shostakovich-like moments of repose, the stability of pedal notes and ostinati, sometimes transparently expressive melodic lines, and all of the emotional swings and roundabouts that you would want from a good string quartet … The music is expressive but uncompromising, filled with gritty passion and unfulfilled longings.

Against all preconceptions and expectations I have enjoyed this well-recorded CD from ECM immensely, and recommend it wholeheartedly.

Dominy Clemens, Music Web, November 2006

The text of Thomas Larcher’s song cycle „My llness is the Medicine I Need“ comes from a Benetton magazine article about psychiatric patients. The icy clarity of the soprano Andrea Lauren Brown’s tone is impressive and disturbing, especially in the high leaps and strange melismas that make enunciation difficult. The accompaniment is partly “prepared”, the composer himself at the eerie padded keyboard. The terse, pithy, arresting directness of the music persists through the two string quartets Ixxu and Cold Farmer, which, played by the Rosamunde Quartet, are bracingly energetic, highly rhythmic even when slow and clearly the product of a feverishly inventive mind.

Rick Jones: Thomas Larcher: IXXU, The Times, November 25, 2006