Label: ECM Records
Cat number: ECM 2605
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Commissioned to write new music to inaugurate the Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg, composer Jörg Widmann drew inspiration from the shape of the building itself: “From the outside it resembles a ship. To me, the interior looked like the hold of a ship, an ark…Re-emerging into the daylight, the ark idea would not leave me alone. The inflection of the music I had to compose was clear….”  Arche, an Oratorio for soloists, choirs, organ and orchestra is a compendious work embracing the course of history in the west with a collaged libretto drawing upon a range of writers: from the unknown authors of the Old Testament to Nietzsche and Sloterdijk via Francis of Assisi, Michelangelo and Schiller. Arche looks at the tradition of the oratorio and transforms it. Dieter Rexroth in the liner notes: “What immediately stands out is above all the impression of paradox and the vast diversity of forms and musical resources. Everything happens at once, everything interlocks. Every moment transports us into another world.” Kent Nagano directs the massed musical forces with aplomb in this concert recording from the premiere performance in January 2017.

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Press & critics


Widmann ist ein Komponist, der sich mit seinem Wirken mit leichter Hand zwischen Tradition und Moderne bewegt. Er hat für die fünf Sätze eine Textsammlung geschaffen, die die die Bibel, Assisi, Heine und Nietzsche aufnimmt, aber auch Klabund und Sloterdijk. Doch erst recht werden musikalisch unzählige Quer- und Rückbezüge geschaffen. Sein eigener Stil wird hier mit Rhythmen à la Orff, Zitaten von Beethoven kombiniert, Walzer und Wagner treffen ebenso aufeinander. […] Die Aufzeichnung der Uraufführung liegt in den Händen von Kent Nagano, der am Pult des Philharmonischen Staatsorchesters Hamburg, dank seiner immensen Erfahrungen mit den Herausforderungen von spröden, konturreichen, dann wieder sich ineinander verbindenden Klangfäden ohne Fehl und Tadel sicher jongliert. Auch die Erzähler und Sänger wissen sich der neuen Aufgabe mit überzeugenden Leistungen anzunehmen.
Uwe Krusch, Pizzicato

Jörg Widmann’s ‘Arche’ is one of those large-scale works that can take a bit of getting used to, but has enough moments of familiarity to draw you in even on a first hearing, and with growing comprehension reveals ever more the longer you live with it. The recording is excellent, and audience noise is restrained and mostly responsive to what is happening in stage, making you wish you’d been there.
Dominy Clements, Music Web

Composer Jörg Widmann’s most ambitious score to date, this live performance of ‘Arche’, a secular oratorio spanning two CDs, is an affecting paean to peace. It was composed to celebrate the opening of the new Elbphilharmonie Hall. With texts ranging from Nietzsche to Francis of Assisi, it is both thoughtful in its connection of disparate ideas and stylistically diverse yet musically compelling throughout. Under Nagano’s leadership, the musicians give a compelling rendition of this challenging piece – indeed, it is hard to believe it is an unedited live performance.  Arche’s climax, in which a children’s choir rebukes their parents’ generation for its destructive ways, is the most moving use of children’s voices I have heard since Terry Riley’s pieces for the Young People’s Chorus of New York City.
Christian Carey, Sequenza 21


If we think we hear Bach at one moment, then Mahler at the next, and then Widmann himself, then we’d be right: it’s a bit like being presented with the entire range of German art music in one piece. This recording is of the premiere. Hats off to all the performers under Kent Nagano’s forensic direction, and to ECM for making it possible. It’s a terrific achievement for all concerned. 

Choirs & Organs March 2019


With Arche, Jörg Widmann has (at the age of 45) delivered the kind of history-of-everything evening-length oratorio that, in retrospect, seems an inevitable point of arrival for his music…The audio-only record lacks nothing for flair, energy and commitment to Widmann’s world of convinced irony.

Gramophone December 2018