… around Stravinsky, Op.72
Marching to Carcassonne, Op.75 [Koussevitzky Music Foundation/London Sinfonietta commission: World Premiere]
Secret Room: Chamber Sonata No.3
Rebecca Hirsch (violin)
Peter Serkin (piano)
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 22 May, 2003
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
This concert might almost have been titled ’second time around’, as it gratifyingly provided a further opportunity to hear three recent Sinfonietta premieres together with a substantial new work by Alexander Goehr. Goehr it was who opened the concert with … around Stravinsky written in 2002, in which Stravinsky’s mid-1930s arrangement for woodwind quartet of his Pastorale is framed by Goehr’s lively ’A Prelude’ and ’Introduzione’ for solo violin and rounded off by a capricious ’Rondo’ for all five instruments – “Three pieces around Stravinsky’s Pastorale”. The stylistic contrast was itself the focus of the musical commentary, with Rebecca Hirsch’s plangently expressive playing well to the fore.
Marching to Carcassonne (2002) is more ambitious in scope at 30 minutes, and more problematic in outcome. The perky opening ’March’ returns twice in the course of eight pithy and contrasted movements, their diverting cumulative effect not dissimilar to that of Stravinsky’s suite from The Soldier’s Tale. The finale – … marching to Carcassonne, Labyrinth – draws elements from the preceding movements, interspersed by reappearances of the ’March’, into a more extended, if often fragmented discourse. Yet the hitherto pungent delineation of character seemed lost amid a welter of conflicting impulses, whose resolution felt more arrived at than achieved. Thought provoking, even so, and a work which may well have ’seasoned’ when it (hopefully) reappears – hopefully once more with the poised intensity of Peter Serkin in the demanding piano part.
Such prolixity was in striking contrast to Detlev Glanert¹s Secret Room (2002) – the third in a series of chamber sonatas, in which the composer consciously restricts his stylistically wide-ranging palette for an abstract synthesis of ideas. The implied layering of ideas gives an invigorating sense of arrival to the musical activity, enhanced by Glanert’s virtuoso deployment of his ensemble.
Finally, Charles Wuorinen and Cyclops (2000) – typical in its intellectual rigour and dynamic approach to form. In essence, this concerto for 20 players passes through interrelated harmonic and rhythmic cycles on its way to a fusion both compressed and climactic. The degree to which the progressively shorter but increasingly complex episodes compact in intensity makes for gripping listening, Wuorinen controlling momentum with a Varèse-like energy. Too much occurring in too long a timespan? Possibly, but the purposefulness of the material largely ensures coherence – especially when that material is tailor-made for the virtuosity of the Knussen-led Sinfonietta.