London Sinfonietta/Valade, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Monday 21 April 2008
At the outset, an Michael Finnissy array of percussion and electronics was to be seen, picked out in the fancy lighting that is now de rigueur for cutting-edge events in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. And the works, chosen for this London Sinfonietta bill by Julian Anderson and conducted by Pierre-André Valade, were sufficiently contrasting in provenance and sonorous imagery to justify the concert's title, Invented Worlds.
From Britain's own Michael Finnissy we heard Contretänze (1986), a 17-minute sequence made up of ornate, closely interwoven lines, successively spotlighting the flute, oboe, clarinet, violin, cello and percussion, and sounding like some drifting cloud of humming, stinging insects. It was more difficult, though, to discern the 18th-century forms that apparently underlay the structure.
The contrast with the next piece, a world premiere, could not have been more vivid. Embrace Me, by the 51-year-old Swedish composer Karen Renquist, was an attempt to exorcise the trauma of almost perishing with her entire family in the 2004 tsunami. Cast in the manner of a slow, Phrygian mode-steeped folk-dirge, with scraps of old Icelandic chanted by four voices from Synergy Vocals, the work certainly cast a dark spell – until its rather too literal evocation of the disaster at the end.
From the Swiss-born 50-year-old Michael Jarrell, we heard the UK premiere of a one-movement double bass concerto that proved, in its sophistication, quite different again. Entitled Droben schmettert ein greller Stein (for which the Sinfonietta's disgracefully uninformative programme notes provided no explanation), this evolved from the solo intonations of the Sinfonietta's lead bassist Enno Senft, in waves of multi-coloured sonority that were subtly enhanced by real-time electronics, to a solo fade-out of delicate pizzicato permutations.
And so to Iannis Xenakis's raucously joyous Jalons (1986), with its searing, distuned note-clusters for winds and loopy string glissandi, yielding occasionally to what sound like scraps of folksong, Balinese melody, or even a burst of Greek café music for harp: the whole thing squeaking and grinding along like a badly oiled machine. Xenakis dedicated it to Boulez, who evidently hated it, but it went down a bomb on this occasion.
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