Goebbels: Landscape with Distant Relatives (ECM)

Heiner Goebbels has produced a succession of distinctive stage works over the last two decades or so, some of which rank among the most dazzling fusions of images, text and music in our time, but Landscape With Distant Relatives, first seen in Geneva in 2002, is the first of them he has specifically labelled as an "opera". Landscape With Distant Relatives uses a patchwork of texts - by authors including Giordano Bruno, Leonardo, TS Eliot, Henri Michaux and Gertrude Stein - which make up the "landscape" of the title, and through which Goebbels' music then travels. There is no narrative threading the 80-minute work; the texts are arranged almost like museum exhibits in the space mapped out by Goebbels' score, with the spotlight falling on each in turn, drawing parallels and creating unexpected connections and collisions between different historical eras and cultural traditions. To establish those links, Goebbels employs a typically vast range of musical styles - from Bollywood film music to country, from samples and jazzy improvisation to period-instrument renaissance pastiche - all of which the peerless Ensemble Modern, playing a bewildering variety of instruments, take entirely in their stride. On disc, of course, only the words and music can be conveyed, and the visual element, always a primary ingredient in Goebbels' scores, is absent. So the part the Ensemble plays in the onstage drama remains unseen, just as the way in which the other performers, two solo vocalists and a chamber choir, are integrated into Goebbels' production is missing too. This, then, can only be a partial glimpse into a work that is far wider-ranging, but even as a soundtrack it is totally absorbing, and carries its own special dramatic charge.

Andrew Clements
The Guardian (GB), 7 December 2007