An almost full hall for Helmut Lachenmann was hardly surprising after the attention he has been receiving recently. To British minds, the ideas behind his music can appear redolent of wilful European avant-garde obscurity. Mouvement, his seminal 1984 work, is described by its composer as "a music of dead movements, of last convulsions and pseudo-activity".
Yet actually listening to the piece - and to the London premiere of Concertini, written last year - was, if not exactly easy, as the composer maintains, then certainly an absorbing and entirely positive experience. Especially in such commanding accounts as these, under Martyn Brabbins.
Mouvement fractures its materials to create what Lachenmann calls the "alienated" sounds of alarm bells and an extraordinary range of noises from the five-string instruments deployed in this 18-piece ensemble. What's more, the piece allows "found" rhythms and other more familiar gestures to become part of a discourse with a surprising sense of narrative ebb and flow.
Concertini takes that musical language and extends it to around 40 minutes, with a larger ensemble that includes performers on two sides of the hall as well as on stage, and more regular, and even occasionally consonant, musical materials. At first, the more "avant-garde" gestures - a trombone played into the inside of a piano, for example - seem passé. Soon, however, the spatial as well as narrative aspects of Concertini - some quick-fire repartee between the groups and some beautiful dialogue between offstage guitar and onstage harp - catch you up and propel you into the music's heart.
I still wonder whether Concertini really needs to be almost double the length of Mouvement. But the alternately scratching and shimmering strings, the skirling woodwind and brass, the shards and splutters as well as the shakes, rattles and rolls of sometimes amplified percussion, and the more than occasional high drama of its spatialised hysteria, mostly had me captivated. More Lachenmann here soon, please, to help redress his long neglect in Britain.Reuse content