Beyond the Border


The Cellist Friedrich Gauwerky
From Manfred Karallus

I met Friedrich Gauwerky for the first time in the concert hall of the Beethoven House in Bonn. And Beethoven was being performed as well: the late D-major Sonata with its countless temptations for the interpreter, pitfalls into which even the greatest and best-known cellists stumble with the same blissful ignorance. Was it a matter of musical taste and instinct, or was it his deep knowledge of new music that kept Gauwerky from revelling too much in lyrical passages, playing reinforcements of the bass line with too lush a sound, and undermining any build-up of tension?

Gauwerky is one of the most sophisticated and unorthodox artists I have ever met. He cannot be assigned to any school or movement. He is a free spirit ,who knows no national preferences, and who feels equally at home in England, China, America and far-off Australia as he does in his home town of Cologne. He refuses to be pigeon-holed solely as a protagonist of New Complexity, although he is a masterly interpreter of such music. After all, his comprehensive repertoire also includes New Music and the latest contemporary music as well as works belonging to the Baroque, Classical and Romantic traditions: Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Brahms ... and Max Reger, whose sonatas at present mean more to him than those of Brahms. And when he travels it is not Ferneyhough and Fox, Holliger and Henze, Stockhausen and Schnittke that he takes with him, but the score of Ludwig van Beethoven's cello sonatas.

His catholic aesthetic approach goes hand in hand with an open, almost osmotic interaction in his relationship to the musical works he plays. Gauwerky - the mediator, the interpreter- engages with a work, makes it his own, and gives it back to us in a clear and fluent form. This facility in mastering extremely complicated musical difficulties has nothing at all to do with superficiality, however: in the guise of dexterity, leggerezza, it forms part of the essence of all virtuosity. Gauwerky's cello-playing is surrounded by an aura of strict concentration, one that can be felt by everyone in the concert hall: a form of seriousness that knows no blasé professional casualness. Not a single note, bowing or accent is unimportant enough for him to dismiss it as superfluous. But, on the other hand, no note is important enough for him to force it on the listener with a laboured, suffering mien.

Friedrich Gauwerky was born in Hamburg in1951, and gave his debut there at the age of twelve. At seventeen he won the Preis des Philharmonischen Orchesters Hamburg. He received important artistic guidance from Arthur Troester. In 1974 he came to Cologne to be principal cellist of the Rheinisches Kammerorchester. He joined the class of Siegfried Palm, later becoming his assistant, taught at the Cologne Conservatorium from 1978 onwards, and coached regularly at the Darmstadt Courses for New Music between 1985 and 1989. He was the principal cellist in Ensemble Modern in Frankfurt. For seven years he was Lecturer in Violoncello at the University of Adelaide, and was very active in Australia in the field of contemporary music as a member of the Elision Ensemble. Since 1996 he has been living in Cologne once more. From there, he travels all over the world to give masterclasses: in Australia, New Zealand, Holland and Cambridge, as well as at the Royal Academy of Music in London...

The works performed on the present CD give a cross-section of Gauwerky's current repertoire in the field of contemporary music. The selection reflects the most advanced level of today's cello-playing and offers us a wide range of works displaying the expressive beauty of New Complexity as well as the ephemeral charm of its tone colours : from Höller's Sonata, composed in 1968 - the amazing product of a then 24 year-old pupil of Bernd Alois Zimmermann - to Hübler's Opus Breve with its abstract instructions for actions notated on three staves, from which the interpreter has to create his/her own sound imagination.

Gauwerky needed "a lot of encouragement'', he says, to start working on Barrett's pieces. The thing that convinced him however ,was the challenge they offered "to explore new technical, and thus also aesthetic, territory.'' ( A CD that appeared six years ago with Gauwerky's Australian Elision Ensemble is dedicated to Richard Barrett's works.)

The "Messages'' by Cary are also oriented towards Australia: "a desert scene translated into sound: two people meet and talk with one another before going their separate ways once more. This work has tricky harmonics that create a special character precisely because of the dull register they are placed in.''

The wide palette of tone colours used in the work "Petals'' by the Finnish composer Saariaho is one of the things that fascinates him about this piece."It's a lot of fun to lose oneself in an ecstasy of sound for a few moments at least, and to exploit the full bounds of interpretative freedom. This music could somehow be called 'fragrant'.''

And on Heyn's Blues in B-flat Gauwerky remarks: " a fine, clearly structured piece in which everything proceeds according to its own convincing logic. Form, sound and extramusical elements combine to form a unified whole.''