Till Fellner: In Concert – Beethoven/Liszt (ECM New Series 2511)

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Till Fellner
In Concert: Beethoven/Liszt

Till Fellner piano
Années de pèlerinage
Concert recording, June 2002
Wien, Musikverein, Großer Saal
Tonmeister: Gottfried Zawichowski
Engineer: Andreas Karlberger
An ORF Recording (Austrian Broadcasting Corporation/Radio Österreich 1)
Sonata No. 32
Concert recording, October 2010
Middlebury College Performing Arts Series
Mahaney Center for the Arts, Robison Hall
Tonmeister: Mark Christensen
Mastering: Markus Heiland
An ECM Production
Release date: November 2, 2018

But where of ye, O tempests! is the goal?
Are ye like those within the human breast?
Or do ye find, at length, like eagles, some high nest?
–Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

After a mosaic of recordings spanning the gamut from J. S. Bach to Thomas Larcher, Till Fellner returns to ECM with a pastiche of live recordings from 2002 and 2010. The first presents the Austrian pianist in his home capital for year one of Franz Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage. Inspired by the composer’s trip to Switzerland from 1835 to 1836 but unpublished until 1855, this aural scrapbook is alive with alpine imagery and motifs, encompassing firsthand memories, friendships, and even political views. It’s on the latter note that the collection begins with La Chapelle de Guillaume Tell. This stately introduction to an otherwise flowing work sets a precedent of architectural soundness that infuses all to follow. Contrast this with the watery beauties of Au lac de Wallenstadt and Au bord d’une source, and you already have a sense of the variety to which Liszt had eloquent access, rendered by Fellner with dynamic temperament.

While many sections, such as the sunlit Pastorale and Eglogue (the latter riffing on a shepherd’s song), are built around fleeting impressions, each nevertheless feels complete. This may be due to the fact nearly all of the music is revised from earlier material, an exception being the tempestuous Orage. No matter the duration, emotional integrity is the primary ingredient, so that the descriptions of Vallée d’Obermann’s thirteen precious minutes feel just as thick as Le mal du pays. Both seem to find the composer yearning for home when away from it, if not also for distant travels when in it, lending themselves to a score that only serves to nourish Fellner’s radiance. All the above shades of meaning cohere in Les cloches de Genève, by which the pianist elicits rich yet subtle sonorities.

If Liszt is a photographer, then Ludwig van Beethoven is a filmmaker whose magnum opus is surely the Sonata No. 32 in c minor. His Opus 111 shares its key signature with the Fifth Symphony and other monumental works, and provides a fitting end to his sonata cycle. As suggested in William Kinderman’s deeply considered liner essay, “The pair of movements of this sonata interact as a contrasting duality suggesting strife and fulfillment, evoking qualities which have stimulated much discussion, reminding commentators of the ‘here’ and the ‘beyond,’ or ‘samsara’ and ‘nirvana.’” Such spiritual language is no mere hyperbole, but an activation point of Beethoven’s grander concerns over the effects of art on the soul. As The Art of Fugue was to Bach, so is the Sonata No. 32 to Beethoven with regard to variation.

To be sure, Fellner touches upon those grander narratives, but more importantly keeps his ears attuned to the details. In the opening movement, for example, his arpeggios feel like quills on paper. Balancing stream-of-consciousness impulses with deeply articulated control, he links an unbreakable chain of progression. The second and final movement begins almost timidly, as if sifting through old notes for fear of what one might find, only to be surprised by a joy one never knew was waiting for rediscovery. Urgency compels the left hand while trills in the right signal a transformation of flesh into glory. “The transformational power of this closing music,” says Kinderman, “acts like a utopian symbol, which seeks to neutralize if not dispel the tragic reality embodied in the weighty opening movement of the work.” And perhaps weight is the most appropriate physical property by which to analyze what’s happening here, for regardless of size and scope, the relationship of every note to gravity is meticulously examined, its potential for flight believed in like a prayer.

Yuuko Shiokawa/András Schiff: Bach/Busoni/Beethoven (ECM New Series 2510)

Bach Busoni Beethoven

Yuuko Shiokawa
András Schiff
Bach/Busoni/Beethoven

Yuuko Shiokawa violin
András Schiff piano
Recorded December 2016, Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano
Engineer: Stephan Schellmann
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: October 27, 2017

Seventeen years separate the first appearance of Yuuko Shiokawa and pianist András Schiff on ECM’s New Series and this long-awaited follow-up. Here they bring their intimate knowledge and experience to bear on sonatas by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924), and Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). Through its sequence and execution, the program reveals as much richness of ideas within the pieces as between them.

Shiokawa Schiff
(Photo credit: Barbara Klemm)

Bach’s Sonata No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1016, dating to his 1717-23 tenure as Kapellmeister at Köthen, is emblematic of a then-nascent genre, and finds both composer and interpreters ordering lines of many shapes and sizes. Schiff’s role at the keyboard is a challenging one, each hand operating independently yet with deep awareness of the other, while Shiokawa must paint with an actorly brush from first note to last. The vulnerability she brings to the opening Adagio is but one example of her ability to take something so lilting, so fragile, and render it impervious to the trampling feet of time. From there she takes us on a journey of inward focus, and by an interactive cartography traces bubbling streams to destinations of delight.

Although Busoni was more steeped in Bach than perhaps any composer before or since, one would be hard-pressed to find Baroque affinity in the first movement of his Sonata No. 2 in e minor, Op. 36a. Towering over a decidedly Beethovenian landscape, it leans toward and away from its historical precedents with fervor. Whereas single movements in the Bach were facets of a larger mosaic, each of Busoni’s sections is a sonata unto itself. The gargantuan final movement, however, is a theme and variations on the Bach chorale “Wie wohl ist mir, o Freund der Seelen, wenn ich in deiner Liebe ruh,” as it appears in wife Anna Magdalena’s Clavier-Büchlein of 1725. Busoni’s 17-minute exegesis goes from funereal to exuberant and back again. Between those worthy bookends stand two slim, insightful volumes. Where the Presto is playful yet adhesive, the somber Andante treads over shifting terrain.

In light of these fantastic excursions, Beethoven’s Sonata No. 10 in G Major comes across as non-fiction. As the composer’s last violin sonata, it holds a status all its own, and its details are organically suited to the duo. Where the trills and harmonies of its Allegro yield an enchanting ripple effect, the Adagio holds us suspended as if in need of nothing more than a confirmation of breath. A brief Scherzo scales the highest peak before trekking down into an Allegretto with a joy given life through musicians who care genuinely for everything they touch. It’s therefore difficult to listen to this recording without reminding oneself that Shiokawa and Schiff are partners in both music and life. Not only because they play so lovingly, but also because they listen to each other with rapt attention, inspiring nothing short of the same.

Momo Kodama: Point and Line (ECM New Series 2509)

Point and Line

Momo Kodama
Point and Line

Momo Kodamapiano
Recorded January 2016, Historischer Reitstadel, Neumarkt
Engineer: Stephan Schellmann
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: January 27, 2017

Four years after making her ECM New Series debut with La vallée des cloches, pianist Momo Kodama returns with a program that is equally adventurous in expectation and inevitable in hindsight, this time shuffling the Études pour piano, L 136 (1915) of Claude Debussy (1862-1918) and Etude I-VI for piano, SJ 1180 (2011-13) of Toshio Hosokawa (b. 1955) into an integrated experience. Having performed both cycles separately, here Kodama imagines them in dialogue with each other. “A number of elements in Hosokawa’s music,” she writes in her liner note, “make me sense a proximity to Debussy. One is the freedom of its formal design; another is its interplay and layering of colors. What I fins especially remarkable in both is a capacity for poetic utterance and ranges widely between lyricism and drama, between meditation and virtuosic display.” As in acts of translation between languages, what separates is also what binds, and Kodama is a masterful interpreter in that regard, fluent as she is in every dialectical nuance at hand.

“Hand” is indeed the operative word, as Kodama’s parallel communicators ride over the intimate cascades of Debussy’s Etude XI before swirling the waters below in defiance of prettiness. Thus, whatever conversational approach we might attribute to process isn’t necessarily between two (or more) people, but rather between different shades of the same musical self. Kodama’s rendering thereof illuminates a cohesive identity, and she, as surely the composers themselves, revels in disruptions, treating each as an opportunity for productive change.

Hosokawa’s Etude II, from which this album get its name, takes its descriptive heading with beautiful literalness, contrasting sustained notes and dotted clusters, the latter as sprays of baby’s breath in a wider bouquet. A spirit of favorable conflict prevails, as also in Debussy’s Etude III, wherein points and lines are converted into poetry. Not that what follows is a series of impressionistic vignettes, but a space in which every utterance counts. As dynamics lob from soft to loud and back again, we are primed for the versification of Hosokawa’s “Calligraphy, Haiku, 1 Line” (Etude III), of which dramatic outbursts amid resonant silences become organic allies.

As the composers continue to seesaw between foreground and background, something surprising begins to happen: we begin to lose track of who wrote what. For while the reveries of Etudes IV and VIII have an obviously Debussean flavor, we might also read distinctly Hosokawan associations into the second and first etudes. And while the tail-chasing details of Hosokawa’s first and fourth etudes reveal a childlike dedication to play (the latter’s subtitle, “Ayatori, Magic by 2 Hands, 3 Lines,” makes reference to the cat’s cradle game), his respect for Debussy peeks from behind the curtains of “Lied, Melody” (Etude VI), a high point that pushes darkness and light through lattices of memory.

Retrospection seems equally vital to sustaining Debussy’s mocking Etude I and Hosokawa’s visceral “Anger” (Etude V), and by the emotional clarity of those expressions turns anticipation into reflection. Like Debussy’s Etude VII, they draw a compass between our ears, for while the notes may go up and down, the hands travel right and left, leaving us with a navigational instrument to cherish as we leave this land behind into uncharted waters.

Bruno Maderna/Luciano Berio: Now, And Then (ECM New Series 2485)

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Bruno Maderna
Luciano Berio
Now, And Then

Orchestra della Szizzera italiana
Dennis Russell Davies
conductor
Pablo Márquezguitar
Recorded August 2015, Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano
Engineer: Michael Rast (RSI)
Editing and mixing: Michael Rast and Manfred Eicher
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: October 27, 2017

Bruno Maderna (1920-1973) was an instrumental force in contemporary music throughout the 1950s, when composers of “modern” persuasion were still struggling to at once uphold and break open the secrets of bygone masters. Maderna was no stranger to the past and had a particular fondness for the clarity of the Italian Baroque, as evidenced in his transcriptions of Girolamo Frescobaldi, Giovanni Legrenzi, Giovanni Gabrieli, Tommaso Lodovico da Viadana, and Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer presented by the Orchestra della Szizzera italiana under the baton of Dennis Russell Davies.

It should come as no surprise that Maderna had a love for the theatre, as these pieces breathe like dramaturgical backdrops to well-studied action. While nearly all of them date from 1952, the sole exception is Gabrieli’s Canzone a tre cori (1969/72), of which Maderna’s recrafting turns glory into lyrical shadow. Frescobaldi’s Tre Pezzi (1952), by contrast, constitute an exercise in contradiction. Robust yet naïve, they move fluidly across and between planes of exposition. The liturgical center, comprised of a brief “Christe” and “Kyrie,” hints at a spiritual undercurrent before deferring to a regal finish. Against this, La Basadonna (1951-52) is a delightful interlude that dances with delicate assurance across this dioramic stage. As heartbeats of golden ages mesh into an elegy for silver futures, Viadana’s Le Sinfonie (1952) reads like an archive of memory. It’s portrait of Italian cities bustles with life and character. Of these, the buoyant “La Venetiana” recalls the programmatic brilliance of Carlo Farina. Last is the “Palestrina-Konzert” (1952) by Wassenaer. Once attributed to Pergolesi, this gorgeous triptych sets up an alluring Vivace through two slower precursors. Enchanting sonorities abound.

From all of these, we know that Maderna understood Baroque music as a giant wheel, sporting a clearly defined center from which regular spokes extended to an more open perimeter. His respect for that underlying architecture reveals its own.

Lodged therein, between the Legrenzi and Gabrieli, is Chemins V, a self-transcription of Sequenza XI (1987-88) by Luciano Berio (1925-2003), with whom Maderna founded Europe’s first electronic music studio, the Studio de fonologia musicale di Radio Milano. This piece, composed in 1992, receives its premiere recording here. Featuring guitarist Pablo Márquez on the instrument for which it was originally written, it’s a deeply psychological journey. Márquez navigates every topographical change with confidence, finding purchase on the narrowest of cliffs and staying grounded on the slipperiest of terrain. Brimming with Berio’s uncanny ability to make the beautiful eerie and vice versa, it treats the guitar as leading voice and internal percussion, ambulating without apparent direction until the subdued, shimmering finale. Worth the price of entry alone, this rare morsel in an already-rich covering speaks to the core of our being as a species at a time when uncertainty rules the day.

Meredith Monk: On Behalf Of Nature (ECM New Series 2473)

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Meredith Monk
On Behalf Of Nature

Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble
Sidney Chen, Ellen Fisher, Katie Geissinger, Meredith Monk, Bruce Rameker, Allison Sniffin
voices
Bohdan Hilash 
woodwinds
John Hollenbeck percussion
Allison Sniffin piano, keyboard, violin, French horn
Laura Sherman harp
Recorded June 2015 at Avatar Studios, New York
Engineer: James A. Farber
Assistant: Akihiro Nishimura
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: October 21, 2016

Since 1981’s Dolmen Music, Meredith Monk has contributed an integral DNA segment of ECM’s evolution as a label. But at no time in history has she felt as poignant as in On Behalf Of Nature. Tracing echoes of relevance to today’s social, spiritual, and terrestrial climate, the album is a mouthpiece for those who are voiceless, epitomized in the lone wooden flute that opens “Dark/Light 1.” As a call born of its own will to be heard, it flowers by nourishment of an egoless sun. Such can be also said of Meredith Monk and her vocal ensemble, whose own voices shape that same will selflessly, dutifully, necessarily—because opportunities to do so are dwindling more rapidly than can be articulated by breath and touch. By these signs is established a grammar that lives beyond codification, yet which is felt in the body even as it wanders into our dreams.

While the 19 offerings placed on this altar of creative sacrifice belong to the same ecosystem, Monk seems to link them to three distinct streams of consciousness. The most visceral of these is accessible in three pieces titled “Environs,” in which the fearful heart trembling at the core of a scarred earth sheds both light and darkness on injuries in which we would much rather never admit complicity. Deep yet delicate, these are about as honest as music gets.

A second stream is heard flowing through the album’s largest forests, which acclimate themselves in the prepared piano of “Ritual Zone,” the prophetic violin of “Memory Zone,” and the joyful cries of “Harvest.” Further gifts emerge in “Duet with Shifting Ground,” “Evolution,” and “Water/Sky Rant.” The latter’s harp-infused anthem of abuse, recovery, and hope is perhaps the most powerful statement Monk has ever committed to record. Each of these is a chamber of truths that have existed since the dawn of humanity, reminding us that harmony must be chosen, not expected. As by the ligaments of “Spider Web Anthem,” cohesion requires patient work and purpose by which to cultivate it.

Such connective tissue is the mantra enlivening interlinear pieces throughout. Through them flow the base elements of all life, whether natural (“Eon”) or human-made (“Pavement Steps”). Therein beats the heart of a question that cannot be spoken yet whose answer is so clear as to be anxiety-inducing. It is not the planet itself but those on it without the means to communicate their traumas across electronic signals or paper who sing. On Behalf Of Nature, then, is their stage: an album so relevant as to be worthy of beaming into outer space in the hopes of clearing a path to salvific inner spaces.

Erkki-Sven Tüür/Brett Dean: Gesualdo (ECM New Series 2452)

Gesualdo

Erkki-Sven Tüür
Brett Dean
Gesualdo

Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
Tallinn Chamber Orchestra
Tõnu Kaljuste conductor
Recorded February 2014 at The Tallinn Methodist Church
Engineer: Maido Maadik
Edited and mixed December 2014 by Maido Maadik, Manfred Eicher, Erkki-Sven Tüür, and Tõnu Kaljuste
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: September 18, 2015

I die, alas, in my suffering,
And she who could give me life,
Alas, kills me and will not help me…

These words, originally sung as Moro lassofrom the Sixth Book of Madrigalsby Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa (1566-1613), recede to let their notes carry on alone in a transcription for string orchestra by conductor Tõnu Kaljuste. This inward look, by proxy, of a composer whose trespasses have been relegated to an afterthought by his oeuvre newly emphasizes repentance trickling through the historical cracks. Echoes of that repentence, in both melody and metaphor, ripple across Carlo (1997). Written by Australian composer Brett Dean, here making his ECM debut, it marshals the Estonian Philharmonic Choir and Tallinn Chamber Orchestra via compressions of space and time. As displacements of the original seed multiply, we hear fear and trembling emerging from within, gradually pared down to morbid whispers and cries of pain, as if to recreate the crime scene that would define Gesualdo’s life, so that when his polyphony returns, it feels like self-deprecation.

Tüür

Given that Carlo is somewhat reminiscent of Erkki-Sven Tüür’s Requiem (1994), no other composer would feel so well included to round out the program. Tüür’s own arrangement of the motet O crux benedicta spotlights a younger Gesualdo, allowing a slightly more optimistic glow to escape. This is followed by L’ombra della croce (2014), a piece for strings that exists somewhere between Illusion and Passion (both from 1993), and Psalmody (1993/2011). This last piece draws a line back to In Spe, a prog-rock band Tüür led between 1979 and 1982. As a dialogue between electric piano, orchestra, and choir, it speaks more to the flesh than to the spirit, at the same time fashioning youth into a crucible of nostalgias. Throughout its 22 minutes, one encounters a chronology of Tüür’s compositional development, from architectonic tinkerer to mosaic master. There’s even a touch of American minimalism to keep the experience centered, well aware as Tüür is that music bleeds.

Dean

Because he is one of the ECM New Series’ integral figures, any new Tüür material on disc is cause for celebration. Yet this pairing with Dean exceeds expectation and heralds a true return to form, such that by its end the album reveals itself to be at once a homecoming from, and departure for, a long journey.

O sorrowful fate,
She who could give me life,
Alas, gives me death.

Alexander Knaifel: Lukomoriye (ECM New Series 2436)

Lukomoriye

Alexander Knaifel
Lukomoriye

Oleg Malov piano
Tatiana Melentieva soprano
Piotr Migunov bass
Lege Artis Choir
Boris Abalian conductor
Recorded February 2002 at The Smolny Cathedral, St. Petersburg
Engineer: Victor Dinov (St. Petersburg Recording Studio)
Recording supervision: Alexander Knaifel
Mastering: Boris Alexeev (engineer)
An ECM Production
Release date: April 20, 2018

As the fourth ECM New Series album dedicated to the music of Alexander Knaifel, Lukomoriye is both continuation and departure from previous discs. In the former sense, it pulls us deeper into the recesses of his faith; in the latter, it engages with more secular—though no less inspired—material. The program’s pillars rise from prayers to the Holy Spirit. Both O Comforter (1995) and O Heavenly King (1994) are written for choir, the second adding to that foundational grammar the punctuation of vibraphone and piano. Like Jeremiah in the pit, they look upward for grace. Their bead-like structure welcomes a thread of spiritual seeking, marking the passage of voices from firmament to soil as if to show us that the opposite trajectory is possible.

This Child (1997), played by pianist Oleg Malov, follows the Gospel of St. Luke. It opens with a single chord, played as if at a far corner of the room, before proximate notes finish the sentence. This sets up the Godly call and prophetic response, articulating questions that can only be answered by salvation. O Lord of all my life (2006), sung by bass Piotr Migunov to Malov’s electronically processed accompaniment, bonds itself with stillness. Through its 16 minutes of rewarding intimacy, Migunov sings with a vulnerability that recalls Sergey Yakovenko in Valentin Silvestrov’s Silent Songs. A prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, wherein humility is preached, and a poem from Pushkin, wherein idealism is crushed into a sinner’s prayer, render the sonic equivalent of a two-way mirror.

From the Word to the World, we are invited to A mad tea-party (2007), in which a heavily reverbed piano breaks its own suspension by the delicate play of a more immediate instrument, evoking both the frustrations and excitations of this pivotal scene in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Such contrasts might be counted as child-like impulses were it not for the conscious use of silence, touches of percussion, and whispers. Kindred details abound in Bliss (1997), wherein the composer’s wife, soprano Tatiana Melentieva, revives Pushkin. Her voice masterfully captures every shade of mythological revelry at hand with barest support from Malov at the piano.As in the title composition (written in 2002 and revised in 2009), even fully formed sentences flit through trees like birds in search of a new dawn, taking on the magic of their surroundings as they travel ever inward.

The ghost of Pushkin lingers in Confession (2003/04). Here Malov intones the words inaudibly, exploring love, carnality, and desire through the keyboard instead, every note as delicate as the balance of flesh and glory that every composer faces, yet few of which channel with such humility.

Carolin Widmann: Mendelssohn/Schumann (ECM New Series 2427)

Widmann Mendelssohn

Carolin Widmann
Mendselssohn/Schumann

Carolin Widmann violin, direction
Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Recorded July 2014, Festspielhaus Baden-Baden
Engineer: Rainer Maillard
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: August 26, 2016

Until now, violinist Carolin Widmann has reexamined mostly chamber territories on ECM. For this disc, recorded in 2014 and released two years later, she leads the Chamber Orchestra of Europe as both director and soloist in a program of two marquis-worthy concertos by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy and Robert Schumann.

The opening theme of Mendelssohn’s Opus 64, composed in 1844, in addition to being one of the most recognizable in the Romantic violin repertoire, shines from Widmann’s interpretative sun like the dawn. What follows in this monumental movement, marked “Allegro molto appassionato,” is more than fiery sermon of the bow, but a full narrative rich with character development, conflict, and hyperrealism. As Jürg Stenzl writes in his liner notes, Mendelssohn was caught between something of a rock and hard place, unsure of whether to continue in the virtuosic fashion of Paganini or follow the orchestral persuasion of Beethoven. If anything, he struck an unprecedented balance between the two, allowing the soloist to shine while also giving the orchestra something lyrical and texturally relevant to say. The central movement—an Andante leading into a transitional Allegretto—is a lyrical bridge to the famous finale, across delicate leaps of intuition turn into robust statements of purpose. Playfulness undergirds every chromatic arc and emboldens Widmann’s benchmark performance with a subtle combination of grit and fluidity. That each of these three movements is shorter than the last is indicative of a distilling approach, whereby the composer peels away one unnecessary layer after another until an unblemished fruit remains.

CW
(Photo credit: Lennard Rühle)

Schumann’s concerto of 1853, unlike Mendelssohn’s widely heralded masterpiece, went unpublished until 1937, dismissed as it was along with his late works as insubstantial. How much of that perception was due to musicological analysis and how much to a growing mythos around his mental downfall is difficult to quantify. Following in the immediate wake of his Opus 31 Fantasy, the concerto is both a return to form and an eschewing of it. If Mendelssohn’s first movement was a short story, then Schumann’s is a novella. Yet despite it gargantuan form, taking up nearly 16 minutes of duration in the present performance, it leaves more than enough room for the listener to find solace, reflection, and understanding. And despite its many colors, there’s a certain trustworthiness to its flow, as emphasized by Widmann’s choices of tempo and dynamics. The second movement, designated “Langsam” (slow), nevertheless speaks with urgency, while the restrained third dances but always keeps one foot on the ground. With bolder, more jagged lines, Schumann expands his vocabulary in and through the score. Widmann’s translations thereof make it understandable in any language.

Selected Signs III – VIII (ECM 2350-55)

Selected Signs 3D

Selected Signs III – VIII

If a story is determined by its beginning and ending, then this Selected Signs boxed set, specially curated for the “ECM: A Cultural Archaeology” exhibition held at Munich’s Haus der Kunst in 2013, is a narrative of frayed edges. Put another way: an open circuit waiting for the listener’s magnetic field. Whereas the first sounds are from Heiner Goebbels’s Der Mann im Fahrstuhl, a multimedia drama born from technological anxieties, the last shape the lips of bard-among-us Robin Williamson, whose unaccompanied song “The World” examines the flesh’s place in endless creation.

Between these two extremes, as distant as they are connected by the six-CD spectrum they delineate, ECM Records founder and producer Manfred Eicher has gathered 85 sonic beacons all lit within his creative purview. Unlike Selected Signs I and II, both plucked from a younger catalog, the present collection feels more like the conspectus those predecessors never could have been. As such, it’s as close as the label has ever come to representing itself under one title.

The first disc maps its genetic profile from ECM’s New Series, exploring a variety of topographies, from the temperate zone of Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians and Joseph Haydn’s The Seven Last Words to the peaks and valleys of Arvo Pärt’s Tabula rasa and C.P.E. Bach’s Fantasie für Klavier fis-Moll, while beyond those contrasts tapping into the connective tissue of Tigran Mansurian’s Testament, Betty Olivero’s Neharót Neharót, and Meredith Monk’s Scared Song. The latter, taken from the 1987 portrait Do You Be, is equally concerned with the storytelling impulse to which all humanity is connected by nature. It’s also a neurological masterpiece that realizes an intersection of freedom and intention such as only ECM could forge.

Disc 2 returns to decidedly German territory with a foray into the Hörstücke of Goebbels. This gnarled talisman of voices, orchestra, and saxophone is a jarring yet somehow logical lead-in to Giya Kancheli’s arresting Vom Winde beweint, the first movement of which floats Kim Kashkashian’s fleshly viola on a bodiless current of strings. This is followed by an excerpt of the Funeral Canticle by John Tavener, a composer who has yet to appear on the label.Despite being an outlier (this performance is taken from a 1999 Harmonia Mundi recording by the Academy of Ancient Music), it feels right at home and transitions seamlessly into the String Quartet No. 15 of Dmitri Shostakovich, as played by the Keller Quartet, which in turn opens a doorway onto the Hilliard Ensemble, whose renderings of Arvo Pärt’s Most Holy Mother of God and the 16th-century Spanish song “Tres morillas m’enamoran” (for which they are joined by saxophonist Jan Garbarek) are sandwiched by the Largo of Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony op. 110. Echoes of that ashen, somber beauty blossom in slow motion throughout two Postludiums of Valentin Silvestrov.

Disc 3 is dedicated almost entirely to composer Eleni Karaindrou. Her music has been a reliable way station along the New Series path for decades. Twelve of the fourteen selections are grafted from Concert in Athens, while the last two are emblematic excerpts from The Weeping Meadow. The sheer depth of feeling in both the writing and the performances prove Eicher’s vision and its ability to embolden others in kind. The most compelling transition comes next via Garbarek’s Dis, the title track of which treats an Aeolian harp as a moving canvas for wooden flute. Closing out this intimate color shift are two songs from Jon Balke and Amina Alaoui’s multicultural Siwan, including the hedonistic “Ashiyin Raïqin,” in which Alaoui sings: “How lucky we are to find this spot for our sojourn.” No sentiment could be truer here. That project’s Iberian roots are echoed in the Passacaglia andaluz II and kindred smattering from Rolf Lislevand’s Nuove musiche.

Things get decidedly cinematic on Disc 4, wherein the ambient touches of Andrey Degatchev’s soundtrack to The Return trace their utterances across physical and metaphysical waters alike. Even the pastiche of Nils Petter Molvær’s seminal Khmer—every track of which, save the last, is preserved—feels like imagery in sound. “Song of Sang II” is transcendent in this and any context, an anthem for all time keening from a past without walls. A new outro is suggested in the spidery “Close (For Comfort)” from Eivind Aarset’s Dream Logic.

As if all of that didn’t already feel like a full-body dip into the ECM font, Disc 5 adds rays to the widening dawn from a range of jazzier persuasions. The Stefano Battaglia Trio regales us first with its 12-minute “Euphonia Elegy,” providing an oceanic set-up for the electronic groove of Food’s “Celestial Food” and the Tord Gustavsen Quartet’s acoustic “Prelude.” What follows takes us all over the ECM map, tracing a red line from the solo guitar of Egberto Gismonti’s “Memoria e Fado” (as well as his magical collaboration with Garbarek and Charlie Haden, “Carta de Amor”) and the vocal honesty of Norma Winstone’s “Like A Lover” to the freer language of the Christian Wallumrød Ensemble and trumpeters Ralph Alessi and Tomasz Stanko. Along the way we also find sacred geometries in the Byzantine renderings of pianist Vassilis Tsabropoulos and cellist Anja Lechner and the Colin Vallon Trio’s appropriately titled “Telepathy.”

Disc 6 chambers the oldest relics, starting with the Jimmy Giuffre 3’s premiere take on the Carla Bley classic “Jesus Maria.” Other archival gems in this final reckoning include “Time Will Tell” (Paul Bley, Evan Parker, and Barre Phillips), “Lonely Woman” (off the 1979 self-titled debut of Old And New Dreams), “Voice from the Past” (title track to Gary Peacock’s outstanding excursion with Garbarek, Stanko, and Jack DeJohnette), and “Kulture Of Jazz” by Wadada Leo Smith. Giving contrast to these precious diamonds are the worldly ores of “Langt innpå skoga” (Sinikka Langeland) and “Psalm” (Frode Haltli). In their dialogue, new orders are suggested, imagined, and liberated.

Because these selected signs, at the exhibition itself, were heard only through headphones or in walk-in listening stations, a strange balance of privacy and openness hovered in the background of their presentation. But like the field recordings interspersed throughout the sequence suggest, they were but itinerant souls in search of a home. And in this box they have found just that, waiting to become a part of yours.