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“Arche”, by Jörg Widmann.

The Elbe Philharmonic, Hamburg’s spectacular concert hall designed by the Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron, was inaugurated in January 2017. One of the venue’s several inaugural concerts was commissioned to composer Jörg Widmann (Munich, 1973), who created an oratorio inspired by what, for Widmann, was the “arch” shape – hence the title, Arche – of the interior of the main hall of the Elphi (as the Philharmonic is colloquially called), and its location by the river Elbe, as if floating on the waters like Noah’s Ark.

The album now released by the prestigious ECM label through its contemporary music label New Series is the live recording of that enormous event: between musicians, solo singers and three choirs, the Japanese-American Kent Nagano conducted no less than three hundred performers.

Tremendously ambitious, the hour and a half long piece of music is an exploration of the changing relationship between God and man, with texts in Latin and German with excerpts ranging from the Old Testament to Nietzsche to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. The orchestral and choral work is spectacular, but contrasts with passages of great simplicity, close to the realm of lied.