La voix humaine – lyric drama to a text by Jean Cocteau [sung in an English translation]
48 Responses to Polymorphia [UK premiere]
Nannou [arr. Nunn]
Ilona Domnich (soprano)
BBC Concert Orchestra
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 31 October, 2011
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall
Horror was presumably meant to transmute into terror after the interval – Penderecki’s Polymorphia (1961) being an instance of the ‘sonorist’ approach with he first came to prominence and which has enjoyed revival in an era when sound need not be overly allied to sense. Certainly those ‘multiple shapes’ which make up its content emerged with exemplary clarity in this performance, though the lack of any essential direction (goal-directed or otherwise) was notable long before its 10 minutes were up, while the final C major chord could hardly be thought a provocation now that misappropriation of tonality is far more evident than its absence.
One of the present-day composers most inspired by Penderecki’s example is Jonny Greenwood, whose role as Composer-in-Association with the BBC Concert Orchestra continued here with the UK premiere of his 48 Responses to Polymorphia (2011). Employing the earlier work’s final chord together with a Bach-like chorale of his own devising, Greenwood has fashioned an atmospheric score that, if it outstayed its welcome, did so not so much through a lack of content as of continuity whence the recourse to lengthy silences seemed less an opening-out of the music’s expressive range than of gaps in its evolution – diversity thereby blurring into discursiveness.
The main ‘analogue’ portion of the concert ended with Nannou (1996), a surprisingly elegant and atmospheric piece by electronica’s perennial enfant terrible Aphex Twin (aka Richard James) – here given in a resourceful arrangement by Patrick Nunn where the musical-box premise of the original is made to yield an expression even more wistful and affecting. In the process, the music’s proximity to the Tierkreis miniatures by Aphex Twin’s oft-cited mentor Stockhausen was the more apparent. The performance left nothing to chance, though quite what is ‘disturbing’ about either the piece itself or the present arrangement was difficult to determine.
The BBCCO then headed off the platform, leaving an empty space as setting for Visage (1961) – probably the most perfectly achieved and certainly the most alluring of the tape-works that Berio created in his early maturity – not least with its focal-point being the inimitable ‘presence’ of Cathy Berberian, heard in a dizzying array of guises which manages to keep the purely electronic source at bay until its graphic submerging during the final minutes. Eye-masks were provided for the audience to submerge collectively in the musical process, but many preferred to use it as a background against which to check messages and send texts. Disturbing indeed!