Klangforum Wien

String Trio No.1 (Ricercari)
Esplorazione del blanco
Molly’s Song 3: Shades of Crimson
No more secrets, no more lies [UK premiere]
Hommage à Klaus Nomi: So Simple (after Hoffmann); Remember (after Purcell/Tate); Can’t Help It (after Holländer/Lerner) [World premiere]; The Witch (after Arlen/Harburg)

Andrew Watts (countertenor)

Klangforum Wien
Johannes Kalitzke

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 4 November, 2004
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

It’s not every year that Klangforum Wien visits the UK, and this rare London appearance was much to be anticipated: a tribute to Paul Kildea’s widening – from within – of the Wigmore Hall’s remit. And, on paper, the programme looked enticing: three works by composers of (more or less) successive generations, proceeded by music from one of the most provocative musical figures at work today.

Little known here, the Austrian-domiciled Polish composer Roman Haubenstock-Ramati (1919-94) was a significant European figure – bridging Webernian and Darmstadt serialism in an undogmatic manner. String Trio No.1 (1948/78) is a three-movement piece whose vitality is the greater for its condensation, the ‘Ricercari’ of the subtitle effecting a variety of contrapuntal exchanges with no superfluous detail around them.

Haubenstock-Ramati approached the concerns of his generation from a conscious remove, as does Salvatore Sciarrino – the acute sonic sensitivity of whose music is demonstrated by Esplorazione del blanco. Operating at a point where near-inaudibility gives rise to intense inner sensation, this is no ‘white space’ of blissful contemplation, but something emotionally acute and unsettling.

Not so Molly’s Song 3 (1996), which continues Rebecca Saunders’s series of Joyce-inspired works in which brightness is perceived in terms of a capacity to inspire or crystallise. The effect of four radios adds an illuminating sub-layer to music whose quizzical playfulness will have come as no surprise to those who passed through Saunders’s recent installation at Tate Modern.

After the interval, music by Olga Neuwirth – though not quite of the groundbreaking spirit evinced in the orchestral Cliamen-Nodus or the reinvention of black comedy that is the stage-work Bählemms Fest. Certainly the bass clarinet monologue Spleen has the manic immediacy that characterises much of her music – and was played with palpable enjoyment by Ernesto Molinari – while the setting of Paul Auster in “No more secrets, no more lies” places Andrew Watts in a variety of unexpected contexts such as augers well for the song-cycle “Ce qui Arrive” on which Neuwirth is currently engaged: a likely equivalent in her output to James Dillon’s “Evolution du vol”.

The remainder of the programme consisted of transcriptions from the “Hommage à Klaus Nomi” cycle also in progress. From the ironic wit of “So Simple”, to the camp melodrama of “Remember” and preening self-regard of “Can’t Help It”, and finally the uninhibited rave-up of “The Witch” (as in the house-flattened Wicked Witch of the East from “The Wizard of Oz”) – Watts soared effortlessly above and beyond the electro-acoustic ensemble, with its liberal dose of samples, as the Wigmore acoustic resounded to the strains of late-night cabaret.

All of which would have been perfect for an after-hours show such as the 1980s’ Almeida Festival did so well, but which seemed an odd choice for this most forward-looking of new-music ensembles to include in a mere hour-long showcase. Was it part of the brief that this appearance be kept relatively ‘short and sweet’ either so as not to offend Wigmore regulars (few of whom were present) or to fulfil the function of a ‘music club’ event as presented by the Anglo-Austrian Music Society? Whatever the case, it sold the ensemble short all round. By all means bring Klangforum Wienhere for regular performances (and the Wigmore Hall is well suited to much of its repertory), but at least allow it its collective head in a full programme of uncompromising, trail-blazing immediacy.

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