Before the Road [First live performance]
Sextet [UK premiere]
Tiger under the Table [LS commission: world premiere]
Suite from Bitter Fruit [World premiere]
Nicolas Hodges (piano)
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 15 March, 2003
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
A very successful concert based on diversity, the ever-flexible Sinfonietta responding to the various demands with time-honoured expertise under Thomas Adès’s clarity of beat and motivating gestures. Gerald Barry opened the respective halves. Sextet, with its summoning piccolo trumpet solo, delighted in typically quixotic rhythmic and colouristic diversion, reminded briefly of Stravinsky’s Les noces with piano and marimbas in combo, and stepped out lightly in de-synchronised shifts. Similarly, four clarinettists with their six family-related instruments entranced with Before the Road (The Road being an orchestral work of Barry’s), eleven miniatures of mechanics and fluidity, of fairground attraction and harmonium-sample, of ditty sophisticatedly made a composer’s fancy.
There’s a real need to hear more of the late Niccolò Castiglioni’s music. Quodlibet (1976), a concise piano concerto, with chamber orchestra, is a jewel in its Webernesque economy and naturalistic and precisely bright-lit soundworld – Messiaen and Ligeti coming to mind. With shimmer and rippling expression, a moment of antique remembrance from a solo flute, and a climb to stratospheric realms, Quodlibet’s ten minutes avidly held the attention … Castiglioni pre-empting a passage in Ligeti’s Violin Concerto (where the ocarinas guest-appear). Nicolas Hodges, it really goes without saying, was masterly, the Sinfonietta alive to Castiglioni’s refinement.
Equally jewel-like is Judith Weir’s new work, written with consummate craftsmanship, which gradually binds disparate characters and moods – woodwind quartet, brass trio, four string players (violin to double bass), piano and percussion. This coming together ultimately focuses on a pianissimo cymbal, which proves such a convincing and worked-out conclusion. Leading to that, Weir’s flighty interaction of solo and ensemble, of structure and departure, made this such a rewarding commission.
So too John Woolrich’s compressed suite of music from Bitter Fruit – “masks, mime, musicians and puppets”. The composer further writes that “edges are always hard and joins are made by jump-cutting”. Not on paper your reviewer’s cup of tea, industrial percussion dominating the platform. In fact, the music’s deliberate pulsation and surreal suggestiveness was focussed by underlying musical structures that realised exuberance, power and piercing sonorities as satisfyingly non-gratuitous to complete an enlivening evening, which hopefully the Sinfonietta recorded for its CD enterprise or was taped by Radio 3.