The London Sinfonietta's latest concert was effectively a musical sandwich: nutty, wholemeal slices of Stravinsky with a selection of exotic, contemporary fillings. There is something slightly dubious about reviving early versions of works that composers have revised – surely they can be expected to know best what they meant? Nevertheless, there is a definite fascination in hearing the "before" and "after" states of famous works. The 1920 version of Stravinsky's towering Symphonies of Wind Instruments starts off familiarly enough with ringing high clarinets, but the ensuing mellow sound of the alto flute characterises an altogether more low-key piece, though in shape and gesture recognisably the same entity.
It's only when you hear the 1947 version in close proximity that you appreciate fully the amazing development of Stravinsky's art and voice in the ensuing 27 years. Instantly more biting, reedy and pungent – muted trumpets adding edge, double-bassoon adding resonance, especially in the recessional choral with which the piece ends. Valuable as it was to hear the earlier incarnation, there's no question – Stravinsky's second thoughts were absolutely right, and the 1947 revision of this incomparable piece is the authentic one.
As ever, the Sinfonietta performed impeccably under director Oliver Knussen, as they did in the four other works in the programme: all the sort of technically demanding material in which they famously excels. Hans Werner Henze's two offerings demonstrated once again his skills as an orchestrator. Voie lactée ô soeur lumineuse was apparently inspired by views of the Milky Way from the composer's Kenyan villa – some nice lyrical writing for trumpet and lots of busy figuration from other instruments, though somehow a bit restless as an evocation of celestial verities. L'Heure Bleue, receiving its premiere, was a more relaxed serenade, opening with tasteful tuned gongs, and featuring long melodic lines and the occasional flirtation with tonal implications.
Xenakis's Akrata of 1965 was something of a rude intrusion on proceedings – a typically uncompromising and austere excursion for 16 winds, including a fearsome array of double bass instruments, which started off well with a series of cubist fanfares, but tailed off in a series of silences.
Magnus Lindberg's recent Gran Duo, scored for almost exactly the same line-up as the Stravinsky, made a most satisfying conclusion to the programme. Surely influenced by the sonorities and atmosphere of the earlier piece, this was a virtuosic exploration of register and timbre, in which sombre horn chords alternated with brilliant high trumpets and vigorous brass., evoking both an icy clarity and a brooding northern soul. A very certain hand was at work in this powerful work, which bodes well for the South Bank's forthcoming Lindberg festival.Reuse content