London Sinfonietta/Knussen, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Luigi Nono (1924-90) was an outstanding example of a composer who could only have thrived in the special cultural conditions after the Second World War.

Luigi Nono (1924-90) was an outstanding example of a composer who could only have thrived in the special cultural conditions after the Second World War. A late starter, almost totally lacking in what traditionally qualified as musicality, he was the more readily able to align himself with the aspiration of such avant-garde contemporaries as Stockhausen and Xenakis to reinvent music from scratch.

By infusing the new constructivist techniques of this aspiration with a fierce ideological commitment of his own, he produced scores of a challenging integrity - as this three-hour chronological survey by the London Sinfonietta, members of the BBC Singers and the electronics of Sound Intermedia under Oliver Knussen amply demonstrated.

The earliest work, Polifonica-Monodia-Ritmica (1951), may sound a bit of a period piece in its stiff games of quasi-serial figures. Yet the mesmeric hush of the latest piece, A Pierre. Dell'azzurro silenzio, inquietum (1985) - with contrabass flute and clarinet pulsating in an electronic echo-chamber - showed how far Nono evolved.

In between, we heard how the searingly pure instrumental serialism of Canti per 13 (1955), took on a primavera-like whiteness of lyrical sound when transferred to voices in a pair of settings of the great Spanish poet Antonio Machado.

Claron McFadden, radiant as soloist in both Machado settings, returned alone to declaim with tragic intensity broken phrases of Cesare Pavese against a surround-sound barrage of electronic voices and factory noises in La fabbrica illuminata (1964). After which that questing contemporary pianist Sarah Nicolls delivered ...sofferte onde serene... (1976) - a kind of dark barcarolle, in which undulating live piano figures are almost indistinguishable from their electronic anticipations and echoes from surrounding loudspeakers.

Knussen returned to direct the work that inaugurated Nono's final, more meditative period of sound-montages: Con Luigi Dallapiccola (1979), a kind of ritual of resonance. Interesting that a marathon programme of the kind we are told empties concert halls here proved a sell-out.

Comments