Klang – A Tribute to Karlheinz Stockhausen … Tierkreis

Drei Lieder (Three Songs) for alto voice and chamber orchestra
KLANG – 19th Hour: Urantia for soprano (recorded) and electronic music [world première]
Tierkreis (Zodiac) for orchestra [UK première]

Helena Rasker (contralto)

London Sinfonietta
Oliver Knussen

Kathinka Pasveer (sound projection)

Reviewed by: Timothy Ball

Reviewed: 8 November, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Oliver KnussenWith much of the focus of the “Klang” festival being on Stockhausen’slater workand, indeed, the “KLANG” cycle itself, it was revealing to hear one ofStockhausen’svery earliest works in the only concert conducted by the festival’scurator.

“Drei Lieder” dates from 1950, Stockhausen setting a poem by Baudelaireandtwo of his own.

Given that the lights were dimmed, it was impossible to follow the textsandtranslations – a shame they weren’t projected as it would have enabledthe audienceto appreciate the skilful word-setting so characteristic of thecomposer.

In all honesty, the music does not anticipate the extraordinaryinnovations which were to come; rather, it suggests a composer firmlyaware of his Germanic routes, with allusions to Berg and Schoenberg,though hints of Weill and, by implication, cabaret and jazz are notentirely absent either.

Helena Rasker was a most effective singer with aparticularly secure lower register. If she was occasionally overwhelmedby the accompaniment, this was not entirely a deficiency on her part.Knussen and the London Sinfonietta delivered the multifarious sonoritiesof the score with compelling conviction.

Nothing could be more contrasted than the work which followed – ‘Urantia’– which is a segment of the “KLANG” cycle left incomplete on the death of the composer. Here, “layers” of ‘Cosmic Pulses’ – the utterly compellingelectronic work which was Stockhausen’s last in that field – areoverlaid by a soprano voice which may be ‘live’ or pre-recorded (it wasthe latter on this occasion). Once again, one realised how important itis to experience a piece of this kind in the flesh, with the soundprojected in the auditorium and scattered in different directions –impossible currently in a domestic situation – and creating a mesmericeffect.

Tierkreis (Zodiac) has a long and multifarious history.Originally conceived for twelve separate music boxes in 1975, themelodies were subsequently used in the music-theatre piece Musik inBauch, much more elaborately in Sirius (electronic music withinstrumental soloists and singers) and diversely in many differentversions for solo instruments and as songs. There are also editions forchamber orchestra and an especially beguiling one for a trio of flute,clarinet and piano doubling trumpet.

This ‘final’ version for ‘acoustic’ chamber orchestra has ten of the’star-signs’ presented by an ensemble of strings and single winds,brass, modest percussion and harp. It would have been useful to have had some indication in the programme as to the order in which the pieceswere played. Nevertheless Oliver Knussen and the London Sinfoniettaprovided sympathetic and authoritative accounts.

Theyare not mere orchestrations of earlier material, but total re-workingsfor the given resources. What was especially touching was the sheerexuberance of some of the music – suggesting that the composer was stillcreating vigorously at the end of his life. The marine astrologicalcreatures were most marvellously evoked, with apposite slithering andother aquatic acoustic allusions, and the exhilaration of the fastermusic (in one movement with a virtuoso tuba contribution) made oneregret that the composer – as planned – was not present in the QueenElizabeth Hall to enjoy what turned out to be his last completed work.

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