Tenebrae [UK premiere]
Bird Concerto with Pianosong [London premiere]
Clio Gould (violin)
Paul Silverthorne (viola)
Joanna MacGregor (piano)
Sound Intermedia (sound design)
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 23 April, 2003
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Live electronics are often spoken of as the fifth element in the orchestra of the future, and a concert of three major works featuring this component was a welcome chance to judge the likelihood of this happening. Certainly the potential for enriching spatial and transformational possibilities of music in real-time has been a primary factor in Pierre Boulez’s work over two decades. Anthèmes 2 (1997) elaborates the solo violin Anthèmes into a spiralling sequence of sonorities, the electronics giving a dynamic intensity to its strophes and a multi-layered ambience to its refrains which has a haunting effect. Clio Gould’s sensitive playing was enhanced by resourceful sound balancing from Sound Intermedia, making the most of the Queen Elizabeth Hall’s focussed brand of resonance.
In Tenebrae (2001), Matthias Pintscher employs viola – tuned so that its compass is opened out in both directions – with the live electronics, but his exploration of a sombre, introspective soundworld is very different from the lightly ricocheting timbres of Boulez. The ensemble, appropriately rich in lower-register instruments, touches-in detail and traces the viola line with discreet empathy, almost as an intermediate layer between soloist and electronics. The cadenza is one of distillation rather than summation, while the coda tapers the ensemble’s spectrum down to a mere tone – as if drawing the music back into the darkness out of which it emerged. Unfailingly sensitive playing from Paul Silverthorne, and a striking work from a leading younger composer far too little known in the UK.
Jonathan Harvey can justly be called a pioneer in the use of electronics, and Bird Concerto with Pianosong (2003) – indicating the emphasis on musical constituents – is among his most substantial recent works. Here the live electronics take the form of digitalised birdsong fed into a sampler keyboard and played by the pianist in combination with the ensemble. Yet what might be an intricate and engaging three-way interaction often seems impeded by the over-active interplay which emerges – as if Harvey’s delight in the potential of the means had distracted him from the coherence of the result. Joanna MacGregor appeared captivated by the challenges of co-ordination to be mastered – but, not for the first time with Harvey, compositional premise promised more than it delivered.