Photograph of Heinz Holliger

Saunders
Quartet
Cutler
’La hora cero...’ [World premiere]
Holliger Beiseit [London premiere]

Andrew Watts (countertenor)
Gareth Davis (clarinet)
Corrado Canonici (double-bass)
David Farmer (accordion)
Dominic Saunders (piano) conducted by Gregory Rose
A short but well-planned concert that might have gone down better (not least the attendance) had it been at a venue more associated with this repertoire – The Warehouse, for instance.
Even so, the first two pieces made the most of the ensemble – oddly constituted, maybe, but strikingly successful in its timbral interplay. Quartet (1998) by Rebecca Saunders would seem to work on the principal of having the piano as ’first among equals’, the music moving through a sequence of contrasting textures in the manner of an abstract game. As befits a work inspired by Astor Piazzolla, Joe Cutler’s ’La hora cero...’ (2002) deployed the ensemble in bracing rhythmic interplay, the accumulated momentum effectively released in a brief and laconic coda.
Famous as an oboist for some four decades now, Heinz Holliger has pursued an equally lengthy career as a composer. Those who still associate him with such uncompromising pieces as the Boulezian String Quartet, or the many-layered Scardinalli – Zyklus, may have been surprised by the restraint and expressive focus of Beiseit. Completed in 1991, these 12 Lieder set Robert Walser and have a winsome elegance whose frequent sense of anger is more acute for being so understated. The vocal line makes elastic use of the countertenor register, including a speaking component in some of the later songs, while the ’folk band’ accompaniment of clarinet, accordion and double-bass situates the ’feel’ of the songs somewhere between Webern and Weill.
An intriguing and affecting cycle delivered with due expressive conviction by Andrew Watts who, standing in for David James at barely two days notice, is clearly a singer with a future. The instrumentalists were clearly in command of some difficult writing both soloistic and as an ensemble, while Gregory Rose directed with evident belief in the music of all three composers. What a pity more people were not there to hear it!

 

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