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on 27 January 2011
Karlheinz Stockhausen was one of the most significant composers of the late 20th century, a contemporary of Boulez and Berio, successor to Webern, pioneer of electroaccoustic music and a wholly original voice in modern music. Composed in 1970, Mantra is one of his most fascinating scores and a significant step towards developing the formula technique that dominated his subsequent music, in particular the opera cycle, Licht, which occupied him for some 30 years. Unlike much of his music to that point, which required its performers to realise the score (a sort of semi-improvisation), it is largely through-composed (that is annotated precisely by the composer), combining accoustic instruments (two pianos) and electronics.

There are going to be people reading this review for whom the music itself, indeed Stockhausen's music generally, is entirely new. What should you expect? Music that is intense, exciting, original, but also uncompromisingly modern: don't look for tunes, there aren't any! And beware, Mantra takes a committed listener: I suppose you could dip in, but to get the best of the piece you need to listen intently all the way through. As a devotee of 20th century modernism, I love this music and would recommend it to anyone with a bit of adventure about them. It is music that gives more of itself on each hearing.

As to the performance: realistically, comparison is difficult, because Stockhausen's music is not widely available outside of his own website and I know of only one other recording, which, if it were the only one, I would certainly be recommending. I've done no comparative listening for this review, so my recommendation, and it is (as the 5 stars should suggest) a strong one, is on the basis of what I've heard here alone. Our perforners are young, enthusiastic and talented musicians, thoughtful and sensitive, and wholly together in their vision of the work. They have the advantage of working with Stockhausen's former assistant, Jan Panis, and modern digital technology, which is another factor distinguishing this performance, as well as having the advantage after all this time of at least something of a performing tradition. All that together with a price tag of around a fiver makes this a very attractive purchase for anyone seeking to explore this most individual and unique composer. The track listing and general presentation are also excellent and will be helpful to afficianados and newcomers alike. This is another extraordinary venture for Naxos, who must now be regarded as one of the most important record labels going.
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on 26 November 2012
I have to agree with both previous reviewers about the magnificence of this recording. Adamos says there are no tunes. Well, what's so great about tunes? I have been totally in love with, literally, all sorts of music since my teens many, many years ago. I will listen to anything, and this immediately caught my ear. Despite playing in bands myself (various styles) and having a large music collection, I can honestly say that I have no idea what's going on here (musical theory wise), but it is thoroughly captivating and is a CD that I will return to again and again.
Just because my tastes are broad doesn't mean that I will like any old rubbish, but this is so different, so captivating, and so complex that it reveals more with each listen. They say that ignorance is bliss, well, my musical ignorance has not been a barrier to an hours worth of total bliss in this instance.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 November 2012
This is my first encounter with the music of the man whom I understand wrote string quartets for helicopters. I was basically sceptical, and only undertook to make some kind of exploration because of the frequencey with which Stockhausen is cited as an influence on Birtwistle in Jonathan Cross' Harrison Birtwistle: Man, Mind, Music, Birtwistle being a composer I definitely have no scepticism about. I decided to begin my Stockhausen adventure here because the clips provided by Amazon sounded intriguing, and not too provocatively alarming. From the start I have found myself strangely absorbed in the work, and am now at a stage with it where I am finding it somewhat addictive. At first I wasn't really sure if it was 'classical music' as such. There seemed to be little real counterpoint, and despite being for two pianos, one seemed to be used predominantly as a rhythm source while the other provided pitch. In fact, it felt more a if I had stumbled into a particularly quirky niche of modern electronica. However, attentive listening soon made clear that what was going on here in terms of scalar, harmonic, and rhythmic patterns were of a kind only to be found in Western classical musica. The device of processing the piano sounds through ring modulators, to a degree determined by the movement of key centres in the work, sounds like an aleatoric contrivance, but it strangely adds a genuine additional dimension of musical form to the work, making it so much more than a piece for two pianos, and rather more than a piece for two pianos subject to some uniform electronic processing. The sleeve-notes describe the technical procedures which prescribe the work's unfolding, though to my insufficiently trained ear it is hard to get to know the work in terms of perceptible reapeated musical structures. Nonetheless, there is plenty of 'incident' along the way, and one comes to a narrative comprehension of the work with surprisingly few listenings. I can imagine this being a piece, with a very specific mood, that I will want to revisit quite often.

So, that's my first acquaintance with the infamous Herr Stockhausen. Not at all difficult or perplexing. The question now is where to go next, given that I still don't much care for the prospect of string quartets in helicopters?
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on 26 February 2015
One of the great pieces written in the 60s in a performance that delivers. Try it!
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