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Kurtág: Grabstein für Stephan, Op. 15; Stele, Op. 33; Stockhausen: Gruppen (20C series)

Claudio Abbado, Friedrich Goldmann Audio CD
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Frequently Bought Together

Kurtág: Grabstein für Stephan, Op. 15; Stele, Op. 33; Stockhausen: Gruppen (20C series) + Stockhausen: Mantra
Price For Both: Ł16.00

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Product details

  • Composer: Karlheinz Stockhausen, György Kurtag
  • Audio CD (4 Jun 2012)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Decca (UMO)
  • ASIN: B007G649NK
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 155,540 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Songs from this album are available to purchase as MP3s. Click on "Buy MP3" or view the MP3 Album.

Song TitleArtist Time Price
Listen  1. Kurtág: Grabstein für Stephan op.15/c - Fassung für grosses Orchester und Solo-GitarreJurgen Ruck 9:17Ł0.79  Buy MP3 
Listen  2. Stockhausen: Gruppen für drei Orchester - Werk Nr.6Berliner Philharmoniker22:20Album Only
Listen  3. Kurtág: Stele Op.33 - 1. Adagio (Live From Philharmonie, Berlin / 1994)Berliner Philharmoniker 2:31Ł0.79  Buy MP3 
Listen  4. Kurtág: Stele Op.33 - 2. Lamentoso - disperato, con moto (Live From Philharmonie, Berlin / 1994)Berliner Philharmoniker 4:07Ł0.79  Buy MP3 
Listen  5. Kurtág: Stele Op.33 - 3. Molto sostenuto (Live From Philharmonie, Berlin / 1994)Berliner Philharmoniker 5:55Ł0.79  Buy MP3 

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting music, well-played - but too short. 17 Feb 2014
Format:Audio CD
This series of re-issues of important works from the 20th Century by DG has proved a valuable exercise and has allowed more of this kind of repertoire to be available. It has been a good chance to pick up some interesting music at a reasonable price.

There is little enough of Stockhausen's work available (apart from direct via the Stockhausen Verlag) so the promise of performances by the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Claudio Abbado is very enticing for any fans of his music. However, there is only one piece lasting just over 22 minutes, written by Stockhausen himself and despite no mention on the front cover, the rest is made up with works by Kurtag.

Anybody looking for Stockhausen's music, therefore is entitled to feel a little short-changed by a disc that only has 44 minutes of music in total and which is over all too quickly. Surely DG could have found other works by Stockhausen to take this up to something closer to 70 minutes?

Having knocked off a star for short measures, the music contained within is excellent - well-played and with very high sound quality. The dynamics are incredible and with such a complex sound picture, the recording captures everything very well. It is mentioned in the liner notes that the link between Stockhausen and Kurtag is that they both studied with Olivier Messiaen in the 1950s. "Gruppen" does in fact sound very much like Messiaen's large scale orchestral works - with percussion to the fore.

The rhythmic ideas and orchestration makes it sound like Stockhausen started with Messiaen's
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Nice 7 Jun 2012
By Vaughan
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
Just received this today, it's one of ten reissues from DG. I have no idea how often they've put out the two disc Steve Reich set that is part of it, but I have it from its original release and it's excellent. For fans of Reich, it has the longest and most complete version of Drumming every recorded (90 minutes or so).

Anyway, this Stockhausen piece was the main draw here, but it's a little strange that the cover gives no mention to Kurtag, who has two pieces that frame the Stockhausen work (Grabstein Fur Stephan and Stele respectively). The thing is, the Kurtag pieces are excellent, and are more than a match for the centerpiece.

WARNING - don't be tempted to turn up the volume during the opening piece with Guitar, because there are some real blasts of sound later on!!!

Anyway, these are cheap, nicely packaged, if minimal (8 pages booklet, two pages of English). Though more so if you intend to buy more than one and complete the set. It comes in an all cardboard digipac. At least this one sounds amazing. Stockhausen writing for three orchestras, all playing at the same time gives lots of scope for merging sounds, call and response, and other highlights. Along with two really nice Kurtag pieces means it's a winner.

No doubt this disc has been released many times in the past, but I'm new to it.


1. Kurtag: Grabstein Fur Stephan (9:17)
2. Stockhausen: Gruppen (Group) (22:20)
3. Kurtag: Stele
a) 2:31
b) 4:07
c) 5:55
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 2.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat infuriating, but Kurtag fans will probably need to pick it up eventually 6 Mar 2013
By Christopher Culver - Published on
Format:Audio CD
The Stockhausen and Kurtág recordings on this DG disc were originally released in the mid-1990s, when Deutsche Grammophon boasted of their sound quality by advertising their stereo CDs with not a little hyperbole as wonders of "4D Sound". Karlheinz Stockhausen's "Gruppen" may have seemed like one of the best pieces to choose to show off how your recording system faithfully reproduces the original space, and the disc is rounded off by two orchestral pieces by Gyorgy Kurtag.

"Gruppen" for three orchestras (1955-57) is probably the greatest thing Stockhausen has ever written. The three orchestras are placed to the left, centre, and right of the audience respectively and exploits this spatial separation by having themes thrown from orchestra to orchestra, making it seem like the very sound is moving. Though written at the height of 1950s serialism, it's a light and airy piece that any audiences but the "classical music stopped with Brahms" conservatives are sure to enjoy. Attending a concert performance of "Gruppen" in Helsinki in 2008 is an experience I'll never forget.

Sadly, in spite of the best efforts of studio engineers, this piece simply doesn't work in a stereo downmix. A 5.1 surround version is desparately needed, and one wonders why Stockhausen-Verlag at least hasn't provided this yet. Furthermore, this performance is filled with misreadings of the score. Compare it to any of the other recordings out there (Boulez et al., Rattle et al., and the definitive recording from Stockhausen himself) and you'll spot a plethora of mistakes. So in spite of "Karlheinz Stockhausen" and "Gruppen" in big letters on the cover of this reissue, this is not the attraction of the disc at all.

What should attract you to this are the two pieces by György Kurtág, one of the most fascinating figures of the 20th century, with a unique blend of dark Bartokian sonorities and Webern-like brevity. Though his oeuvre slowly but steadily proceded from an opus number one string quartet in the late 1950s, he arrived on the international stage only when Pierre Boulez took up his music in the early 1980s, when the composer was nearly sixty. Most of Kurtag on disc, however, is for soloists or small ensembles, and this disc finally brought his orchestral music to home listeners.

Like the Stockhausen, Kurtag's "Gravestone for Stephen" op. 15c (1989) exploits the performance space by widely dispersing the players. It is the most stripped down piece I've ever heard from the composer. For most of its 9-minute length a guitar plays ascending scales at very low dynamic with the slightest of accompaniment by strings at even lower dynamics. Only at the midpoint do we get a few sad calls from the brass, before the music returns to the guitar and strings. Were the piece not written to commemorate the dead--the husband of Marianne Stein, the French psychologist who led Kurtag out of compositional crisis in the 1950--the limited musical material would seem fluffy and insubstantial like those New Age composer figures. Its anguished tones do move the listener somewhat, however.

The more ambitious "Stele" op. 33 (1994) is written for large orchestra in three movements, though at not much over ten minutes long it continues the composer's tendency to think short. The first movement consists of soft microtonal writing with prominent winds. The second begins with a buzzing, aleatoric-sounding soundscape reminiscent of Lutoslawski's second symphony before exploring various portions of the orchestra and then fading out with soft strings. The third movement is a slow ostinato on low instruments. It's an impressive exploitation of the possibilities of a large orchestra, though somewhat directionless.

Though I enjoy "Grabstein fuer Stephan" and "Stelae", especially the latter, I find Kurtag to be more impressive in the chamber music-- especially the string quartets--and piano solo genres. But that could be due to Abbado's reading of the pieces, which are untrustworthy. Watching Abbado prepare the pieces under Kurtag's supervision on the The Matchstick Man documentary, I got the impression that Abbado just didn't really understand what he was doing. "Grabstein fuer Stephan" has been recorded on a Col Legno disc, where Peter Eotvos conducts, and I'm going to need to track that down.

Besides the lame reading of "Gruppen" and the untrustworthiness of the "Kurtag" performances, another objectionable thing about this disc is that it contains only 44 minutes of music. Could nothing else be found to fill it out? All in all, I give the disc two stars, but since Kurtag's orchestral works are difficult to find in recording, fans of that composer are probably going to make do with this disc anyway, and that hurts. If you are looking for an introduction to Kurtag, get the Arditti Quartet performance of the string quartets. Likewise, encountering Stockhausen here for the first here would be disastrous. Lovers of modernism need to get to grips with Stockhausen's work at least for its historical importance if not the pure enjoyment in it, but as much as it's a pain in the neck to order, the definitive discs from Stockhausen-Verlag are a better way to do it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great avant composition in a not-so-great performance 13 Mar 2013
By Autonomeus - Published on
Format:Audio CD
Stockhausen's "Gruppen" (Groups) is a classic of the post-war avant-garde. In live performance the orchestra is divided into three groups, each with its own conductor, and placed to the front and both sides of the audience. The resulting spatialization is one of the work's key features, and is difficult if not impossible to accurately capture in a recording.

Unfortunately, however, this live December 1994 recording of the Berliner Philharmoniker, led by Friedrich Goldmann, Claudio Abbado, and Marcus Creed, is perhaps the worst of the few recordings over the years. Some may think that the "best orchestra" will necessarily produce the best performance, but all orchestras are not equally good at all types of music. The Berliner Philharmoniker is an excellent orchestra, yes, but they are not necessarily the best at contemporary avant-garde repertoire. The advantage in this case was the presence of Goldmann (1941-2009), an excellent composer of the DDR (East Germany) until reunification, who studied with Stockhausen as a young man. But the results are not inspiring. (This disc in the 20C series is a reissue of this original DG disc, which is still available.)

Here is a summary of "Gruppen" before I turn to a far superior recording, and the other two pieces on this disc:

"Gruppen (Groups) for 3 orchestras" (1955-57 -- 22'20 in this Berlin performance) is written for an orchestra of 108 players, divided into three groups of 36. Each group is about half strings and the other half equal numbers of woodwinds, brass, and percussion, the percussion both pitched and unpitched. "Gruppen" was pathbreaking in many ways. Theoretically it was an example of total serialism, an attempt to rigorously structure every aspect of the composition. The instrumentation is unorthodox, emphasizing percussion and deemphasizing strings. Spatialization is central to the sound, with the three groups placed to the front, left and right of the audience, with sounds moving dynamically, leaping, sometimes hurtling, from one group to another. The three groups play simultaneously at different tempos, requiring three conductors. Contrary to what one might imagine, "Gruppen" is actually a quite delicate tracery of sound, not a massive onslaught. According to Stockhausen, it is actually a synthesis of orchestral, chamber and solo music. Lacking melody, repetition, sonata form, and other recognizable features, "Gruppen" is a journey into unknown terrain. One way to think of it is Webern's "Symphony (Op. 21)" expanded in every dimension.

The best recording of "Gruppen" according to Stockhausen himself, who made it available through his own mail order website upon its release in 2006, is by the WDR Sinfonieorchester Koln, led by Peter Eotvos, on the Budapest Music Center label. (The performance was in 1997.) Eotvos (b. 1944), the Hungarian composer and conductor, was a regular member of the Stockhausen Ensemble from 1968 to 1976, and so has an intimate working knowledge of Stockhausen's scores and thinking about how they should be performed. The WDR/Eotvos recording floors the listener immediately with its depth of sound and the conviction of the players, who have clearly rehearsed the piece to the point where they can give a heart-felt interpretation and not merely struggle to keep up with the score. The distance between it and this Berlin performance and recording is vast. The WDR/Eotvos recording is the one to get, and it may soon be unavailable, so don't delay!

Stockhausen (1928-2007) was long based in Koln (Cologne), and "Gruppen" was commissioned by, first performed by, and first recorded by the WDR, so clearly this is the most authoritative orchestra to perform the legendary work. (WDR stands for Westdeutscher Rundfunk, or West German Radio.) The first recording of "Gruppen" was made in 1965, by the WDR Sinfonieorchester Koln led by Karlheinz Stockhausen, Bruno Maderna, and Michael Gielen. This is the recording found on Stockhausen Edition No. 5 available from Stockhausen-Verlag. The premiere performance was by the WDR on March 24, 1958 with Stockhausen, Maderna, and Pierre Boulez conducting.

The other two pieces on this 20C disc are by the Hungarian composer Gyorgy Kurtag (b. 1926). "Grabstein fur Stephan" (1989 -- 9'17) is a very quiet piece for guitar and instrumental groups, with Jurgen Ruck on guitar. It is music for reflection and grieving, and I have not yet found it to be at all compelling under everyday circumstances.

The other Kurtag piece, though, "Stele" (1994 -- 12'33), is stunning. One of only a handful of orchestral pieces by Kurtag, who mainly writes chamber music, it was written for and dedicated to Abbado and the Berliner Philharmoniker while Kurtag was composer-in-residence. The last of the three movements is based on a piano piece written for Kurtag's friend and promoter, Andras Mihaly. This live recording is fine, though the orchestra sounds as if it is at a distance. The advantage is that the overall contour is easily discernable, but the detail is lacking.

This becomes clear on comparison to the 1996 recording by the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg, led by Michael Gielen. The SWR recording is much brighter and clearer -- it sounds as if you are in the middle of the orchestra. The powerful central section stands out in sharper relief, and the repeating chords in the final movement, like a bell tolling, are less muffled. The SWR/Gielen recording was available in the Musik in Deutschland 1950-2000 series from RCA, which unfortunately no longer seems to be available. But it can also be heard on this excellent Hanssler disc along with Mahler's Symphony No. 2. (Gielen's entire Mahler symphony cycle is well worth hearing.)

*** *** ***

This disc can be recommended to those looking for an affordable and available recording of "Gruppen," with all the caveats and alternatives mentioned above. It can also be recommended to anyone who happens to be looking for Kurtag's "Stele," though it too is not the best available recording.

If you're investigating Stockhausen, check out The Quintessential Stockhausen Chamber Music Disc with four seminal 1950s pieces performed and recorded in 2008 and 2009 with panache by the ensemble recherche, in addition to the WDR/Eotvos orchestral disc.

(verified purchase from a large brick-and-mortar bookstore)
2.0 out of 5 stars Epochal masterpiece (Gruppen); disappointing performance (Abbado) 4 July 2014
By David D. Gable - Published on
Format:Audio CD
I am very glad that other reviewers have hastened to point out the inadequacies of Claudio Abbado's live DG recording of Stockhausen's GRUPPEN. Fortunately , three spectacularly secure recordings are available, two on CD and one on DVD, although one of them is virtually impossible to find. (Sadly, the recording from the 1960's featuring the composer as one of the conductors cannot compete in security and accuracy with these three more recent recordings.) First is a recording with Peter Eötvös, which has the inestimable merit of being coupled with an equally fine recording of Stockhausen's Punkte, a piece on which Eötvos worked closely with the composer:

WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln
Arturo Tamayo, conductor, Orchestra I
Peter Eötvös, conductor, Orchestra II
Jacques Mercier, conductor, Orchestra III
Recorded 1997 (Gruppen) & 2004 (Punkte)
BMC [Budapest Music Center] CD 117

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Gruppen / Punkte

Second is a wonderful performance with Simon Rattle available on a bonus DVD included with another release:

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
John Carewe, conductor, Orchestra I
Simon Rattle, conductor, Orchestra II
Daniel Harding, conductor, Orchestra III
Birmingham, Symphony Hall, 2 March 1996

DVD, "Leaving Home, vol. 6: After the Wake," with Simon Rattle
Arthaus Musik 102 043

Leaving Home: Orchestral Music in the 20th Century, Vol. 6 - After the Wake

Last is this recording, released and sold by the ensembles involved but long out of print:

Schönberg Ensemble
Asko Ensemble
Reinbert de Leeuw, conductor, Orchestra I
Oliver Knussen, conductor, Orchestra II
Robert Spano, conductor, Orchestra III
Live performance, Amsterdam, Concertgebouw
3 September 1995
4.0 out of 5 stars A landmark. 27 Feb 2013
By Michael R. Hall - Published on
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
While not the best recording, any experience of Gruppen is otherworldy. Make sure you have your system set up for good acustics and put the recording on and be ready for a trip to an otherly world!
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