Bernd Alois Zimmermann was a polystylist: he took 20th-century musical tropes, everything from popular jazz and Latin music to Debussyan Impressionism to atonal and 12-tone harmonic structures, and mashed them together. He then picked up various of those hybrids and ran with them. (In this respect he was a major influence on the later composer Alfred Schnittke.) His compositions were much revised as he was intensely perfectionist. Late in his life his textures became greatly pared back, minimal rather than minimalist, and all his music seems to harbour an underlying melancholy. Suffering from debilitating depression, Zimmermann committed suicide in 1970, aged 52.

The piano music in this recital shows his process to some extent, for instance in the suite Enchiridion – Anyang, with its brief, deconstructed tributes to Debussy and Johann Strauss. The fact remains, the pianoforte was not Zimmermann’s medium. Here we have six sets of miniatures, ranging from the Milhaud-influenced Three Piano Pieces (1939-46) to the fragmentary, Webernian Configurations (1956). Whatever the style, it is hard to avoid the impression that these are preliminary sketches: experiments with gestural juxtaposition, which the composer would go on to elaborate in more substantial works. The true radical is to be found in his orchestral and large-scale vocal compositions. I would begin with the Violin, Trumpet and Cello Concertos, or the dazzling orchestral suite Alagoana.

As thoughtfully as Eduardo Fernández plays, and as beautifully as his piano is recorded, the impression remains of minor work by a major composer.

Composer: Zimmermann
Works: Piano Music 1939-1956
Performer: Eduardo Fernández p
Label: BIS BIS2495