CLASSICAL MUSIC: London Sinfonietta: 'Post War / Post Wall' Series QEH, SBC, London

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Indy Lifestyle Online
As I walked into the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Saturday evening, a colleague remarked that the London Sinfonietta had not had much luck lately in attracting audiences. And indeed Saturday's concert was no exception. This was the first in a pair devoted to German new music, "Post War / Post Wall: reconstruction and deconstruction", as the snappy publicity material would have it.

But is luck the appropriate word? The London Sinfonietta was rewarded by a house scarcely half full, made up largely of a "professional" audience, the one that usually turns out for these things. No, luck is not the word. Programming might be. We have the London Sinfonietta to thank for bringing to public attention - albeit a small public - areas of new music that have no particular following. But it may be risky to lump whole programmes of new music together by nationality.

"Post War", as defined here, seemed broadly to be interpreted as music by composers born before or during the war. It seemed less to do with the over-riding importance, post-war, of the support of the German radio stations for an aesthetic now broadly recognised as belonging to the Darmstadt school, a school that embraced the early total serialists in a battle against conservative composers still tied to the neo-classical principles of Hindemith and his ilk.

Significantly, leading the pack on Saturday, indeed towering head and shoulders over it, was Karlheinz Stockhausen. Of late, Stockhausen has not been receiving a good press for his most recent work - all of it somehow destined to be included in his vastly ambitious operatic cycle, Licht. The evening concert was preceded by a showing of a Dutch TV film documenting Stockhausen's hilarious attempts in 1995 to wed four helicopters to the indefatigable Arditti Quartet - fun to watch, rotten music.

By contrast, Kontrapunkte, written in the dark 1950s, remains a landmark. Here is a piece with clear ideas, clearly expressed, a brilliant, dramatic work written without recourse to thematic or dramatic development. Very different from the world of Wilhelm Killmayer.

If his name is completely unfamiliar in this country (he was born in Munich in 1927), his Sinfonia 2: Ricordanze (written in 1968/9) suggests that his work may have been overlooked. His slow, sparse, plaintive style, full of silences, seems to stem from Webern, although in a quite different tonal language. In a slightly uncanny way his music, not only thematically but instrumentally (the tell-tale harpsichord), seems to presage the later work of Arvo Part.

Saturday's concert was under the expert hands of the veteran German composer, Hans Zender. But his Furin No Kyo (1989), slow, ponderous and gestural, was only rescued by superb playing from the London Sinfonietta and wonderfully moulded vocal lines from the soprano, June Moffat. Moffat again displayed her sureness of pitch and warmth of tone in Bernd-Alois Zimmermann's colourful Cantata: Omnia tempus habent, a work written just before his opera Die Soldaten.

But it took the wizardry of the soloist, John Wallace, to put real panache back into the evening in Fanal, a miniature trumpet concerto, by the youngest composer of the evening, York Holler. Luck at last?

Second concert: Sunday 7.45pm, QEH, SBC (0171-960 4242)

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