Rain Coming Larcher
Die Nacht der Verlorenen [Southbank Centre and Casa da Musica, Porto co-commission: World premiere]
Antennas … Requiem for H
Böse Zellen (Piano Concerto) [UK premiere] Takemitsu
Matthias Goerne (baritone)
Thomas Larcher (piano)
Free Radicals – Thomas Larcher
Tuesday, September 30, 2008 Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall
Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse
The London Sinfonietta's 41st season commenced with a concert focussing on the music of
Thomas Larcher, the Austrian composer (born 1963) who is more familiar here as a pianist
(indeed, his pianism was the highlight of a performance of Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time at this year's Proms.
Speaking prior to the second half, Larcher spoke
about not feeling part of the current Austrian new music scene: that he is no slouch
when it comes to contemporary techniques was demonstrated, however, by Antennas … Requiem
for H (1999) – six minutes of electro-acoustic piano gestures that put a soundworld
variously associated with Lachenmann and Sciarrino to thoughtfully inventive use.
Equally intriguing in its more elaborate way is Böse Zellen (2006) – a 'piano concerto'
commissioned after the manner of Mozart's E flat Piano Concerto (K482), though with its title and formal
follow-through derived from the film “Free Radicals” by Barbara Albert. Musically the
piece emerges (without developing as such) from a number of distinctive motifs
distributed between pianist and ensemble, thus creating an evocative context for
whatever scenario is implied – though ambivalent undertones seldom seem far from the
surface. That it can be appreciated as a self-sufficient concert work is equally
apparent, thanks to the sheer expressive poise of its content as well as the technical
mastery which Larcher displayed in the understated yet demanding solo part – itself
exquisitely dovetailed into the orchestral texture.
Larcher's biggest contribution to the evening, however, came with the world premiere of
“Die Nacht der Verlorenen” (The Night of the Lost) – a song-cycle after Ingeborg Bachmann. Those who know the German author through her collaborations with Hans Werner
Henze might have been surprised at the compression of the verse set here, all from a
volume of fragmentary and unfinished poems published as recently as 2000. Larcher
recalled the controversy this volume aroused – in that its content had, by definition,
little or nothing of the objectivity Bachmann was at pains to secure; thus its
publication could be thought a disservice to her memory. That said, its emotional
potency is a ready incitement to setting, and there can be no doubt that Larcher has
approached the task with absolute sincerity.
A quality that in itself, though, is not enough to sustain a work of nearly a
half-hour's length without the music being at least equal in its actual substance to the
texts. And here it is Larcher's seeming desire to create a song-cycle audibly within the
tradition of its genre that may be at fault; these six settings being awash with
stylistic allusions (whether conscious or otherwise) to 'what came before' such that the
work takes the guise of a commentary on said tradition in which the Bachmann poems had
become a background to music which was itself little more than the generalised
commentary on what was being expressed. This lack of a personal or an intrinsic
focal-point meant that the work as a whole has little of import to convey about its
subject-matter and, in consequence, to the listener.
All of which was a pity given the quality of this performance – with Matthias Goerne
confirming why he has few equals among present-day lyric baritones, and Martyn Brabbins
securing an appropriately detailed yet luminous response from the Sinfonietta.
stylistic independence was further evident in his choosing two works by Takemitsu to
round out the evening. In its approach to tonality and texture, Rain Coming (1982) is
among the most fluid of the Japanese composer's later ensemble works, and enticingly played here, with Tree Line (1988) among his most finely realised; descriptive means
married to musical ends with an effortlessness not always found in the music of
Takemitsu's final decade. Little wonder it has proved among the most durable of the