London Sinfonietta – Invented Worlds

Embrace Me [World premiere]
Droben schmettert ein greller Stein [UK premiere]

Synergy Vocals
Enno Senft (double bass)
Sound Intermedia

London Sinfonietta
Pierre-André Valade

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 16 April, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Pierre-André ValadeThis London Sinfonietta concert featured four contrasting works, with ‘melody’ as the oblique factor that unified the programme. Certainly there were abundant melodic lines in Michael Finnissy’s Contretänze – resourcefully scored for a sextet of three woodwind, two strings and percussion, though the textural and registral extremes to which these were subjected tended to render them as stylisation, even parodies, such as one might find in the late 1960s work of Peter Maxwell Davies. Eventfulbut defiantly non-cumulative, the piece marginally outstayed its welcome at just under 20 minutes.

Karin Rehnqvist. Photograph: Jan HarstedtNot so Karin Rehnqvist’s new work – though Embrace Me, a belated tribute (three years in composing) to those who lost their lives in the 2004 tsunami, has a subdued quality (other than a brief climactic upsurge toward the centre) that held the attention without ever really galvanising it. Synergy Vocals added a notably hieratic quality to the stark setting of lines derived from an Icelandic saga written a millennium ago, while the intricate textures and steady ongoing motion certainly enhanced the sense of a memorial of no mean eloquence, even though the overall impact was a (necessarily?) muted one.

Whether there was such a commemorative element in Michael Jarrell’s Droben schmettert ein greller Stein, this concertante work for double bass and ensemble was a good deal more unpredictable, even capricious in its expressive follow-through. Intensely imagined, too, in the way that any demarcation was removed by an electro-acoustic element, with sounds transformed – spatially and timbrally – far beyond their source of origin. Enno Senft conveyed the spirit of this speculative music with dextrous virtuosity, and the piece was such as to make one regret that Jarrell is still so little heard in the UK.

Xenakis has fared relatively well in the years since his death, but there could hardly be a ‘wrong’ time to perform Jalons – written for the tenth anniversary of Ensemble Intercontemporain in 1987 and among his most Varèsian utterances in its granitic confrontation of wind and strings (no percussion, but hardly necessary in this context). Commissioning or performing, the London Sinfonietta has a track-record second to none with this composer, and Pierre-André Valade ensured the work’s impact was unsparing. Inevitably, such music risked obliterating the impact of what had gone before, but the programme was such as to ensure each of these ‘invented worlds’ had its place in the overall design.

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