Helena Rasker/London Sinfonietta/Oliver Knussen, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Tuesday 18 November 2008
This was a concert of first and last things. Or, more or less. Karlheinz Stockhausen's Drei Lieder for alto and chamber orchestra (1950) survive among his earliest student efforts, while he completed a new orchestration of his zodiac pieces Tierkreis (1975/2007) only the night before his sudden death last December. In between, we had an electronic world premiere of the "19th Hour: Urantia" from KLANG, his (not quite completed) cycle celebrating the 24 hours of the day.
The three songs on words of Baudelaire and Stockhausen's own revealed a not-quite-coherent but vastly inventive young composer trying to escape from a mix of atonal Bergian expressionism and sardonic march music à la Kurt Weill. Helena Rasker was the powerful soloist while Oliver Knussen – curator of the Southbank's major Stockhausen retrospective – held the work's jerky continuities together and the London Sinfonietta responded with vivid precision.
The Tierkreis pieces also proved touching, if in a different way. Originally composed as a set of oddly naive melodies for music boxes on the signs of the zodiac, they were worked up into the two sequences of orchestral arrangements heard here. As solicitously directed by Knussen, the wan little unison on which the sequence ended really did sound like a gesture of farewell.
Far less touching proved KLANG: "19th Hour: Urantia" (2007) for recorded soprano and electronic music: a projection of shapeless soprano phrases through a many-layered spiralling of juddering electronic pulses, at oppressive volume. Amid the 20-minute tumult, one thought almost fondly of Pascal's saying: "The silence of infinite space terrifies me."
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