Pleasure to the end (even if you can't whistle the tune)

Contemporary Arts Ensemble | ICA, London William Glock Memorial Concert | St John's, Smith Square, London
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The Independent Culture

Schoenberg, like many another atonal composer, may have wished in vain to hear his melodies whistled in the streets. Even so, the joy and boundless energy of much 20th-century music of the serial school of composition are undeniable, and this was the message of the second of two ICA concerts last Sunday, celebrating the "Stockhausen Connection" as part of an acoustICA new music series held over four Sundays.

Schoenberg, like many another atonal composer, may have wished in vain to hear his melodies whistled in the streets. Even so, the joy and boundless energy of much 20th-century music of the serial school of composition are undeniable, and this was the message of the second of two ICA concerts last Sunday, celebrating the "Stockhausen Connection" as part of an acoustICA new music series held over four Sundays.

Surprisingly pawky right up to its downbeat final note, Kontra-Punkte represented the master himself, extending the theme of an afternoon event that had featured other early masterpieces such as Zyklus and Kontakte. But connections were broadened to include scores by Stefan Wolpe, Claude Vivier and Sinan Savaskan for the evening session, where the contrasts between pieces and composers made for shapely programming.

In the case of Wolpe's Piece for Two Instrumental Units, the contrasts within the work itself proved no less gripping, the music belying the deadpan ring of its title with effulgent wit projected through nimble invention and fluent playing from the Contemporary Arts Ensemble/London, conducted by Zsolt Nagy. For the lucidity of his textures Wolpe scored full marks; according to sketches, seven proved the winning number on which he founded his musical scheme, and not just for the septet ensemble. The prize was more your sense of wanting extra when the work was over, to retrace its lines of overlapping development.

As it was, the following item, Vivier's Bouchara for soprano, strings and wind offered something different: a static meditation on an obscurely texted aria by a composer most famous for dying young and gruesomely. Unlike some more recent examples of the contemplative art, neither its sepulchral chords nor the lengthy pauses between them outstayed their welcome. Yet the sense that Messiaen had chosen these chords better, and in the 1930s, alloyed one's admiration somewhat, in spite of a tape part sparingly and dramatically employed.

The nerves revived with the world premiere and down-to-earth noises of Savaskan's Unique Strands, Circular Functions and Portofino, a medley of classic 20th-century mixed ensemble textures. The premise here belonged to the Stockhausen connection: a popular song fused with a complex compositional ideal.

Oliver Knussen and Pierre Boulez conducted the London Sinfonietta and BBC Symphony Orchestra the following evening at St John's, Smith Square, paying tribute, along with a capacity audience, to the late Sir William Glock. Highlights included Carter's Asko Concerto, plus Haydn in E flat: Imogen Cooper, Isabelle Faust and Natalie Klein playing the 29th Piano Trio, matching Glock's own 1962 recording of the great E flat piano sonata No 52, on a CD thoughtfully prepared for the occasion.

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