London Sinfonietta/Martyn Brabbins – A World and Three UK Premieres (17 March)

Two Interludes for an Opera [World premiere]
Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco
Monodie [UK premiere]
Concetto Spaziale (per Lucio Fontana) [UK premiere]
Sphäre um Sphäre [UK premiere]

Sound Intermedia
London Sinfonietta
Martyn Brabbins

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 17 March, 2004
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Few composers have integrated electronics into their music so systematically as Jonathan Harvey, whose commission for Netherlands Opera (the premiere is scheduled for 2007) will include a major role for spatialized sound; live electronics transforming instrumentalists – and presumably singers – so that the music develops rather than merely sounding in space.

As realised tonight by Sound Intermedia and Harvey’s musical assistant Carl Faia, the Two Interludes seem to anticipate the opera as did Busoni’s Two Studies for Doktor Faust: conveying the intended feel of the work, while functioning as an independent diptych. Fall portrays Wagner’s state of mind at the point of his fatal heart attack, ruminating on a stage-work founded on the Buddhist legend of Prakriti and Ananda; while Attraction relates to the intensifying attraction of these two figures. The music has that ethereal asperity familiar from other Harvey pieces involving electronics, only here the textures perceptibly evolve around the auditorium – resulting in a multi-dimensional fluency that ought to be impressive sustained over an evening-length duration.

The point was made the more strongly on hearing Harvey’s tape classic Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco (1980) immediately after the interval. While the modified tenor bell at Winchester Cathedral and Harvey’s then-chorister son create a still-evocative synthesis, a sense of tangibility is missing – the music proceeding more as a replica of the actual composition, rather than emerging in real-time.

Otherwise, the concert consisted of pieces by leading figures from the Austrian and German scenes, and a British composer more often heard on the other side of the Channel. In Concetto Spaziale (2001), James Clarke pays homage to the artist Lucio Fontana with an intensifying superimposition of ideas which take on new and unexpected musical contours as they evolve: a creation of beautiful ends through violent means that works almost as well in practice as in conception.

If Georg Friedrich Haas’s Monodie (1999) pursues a far more static outward trajectory, the emergence and enriching of a unison melody-line entices the ear with its myriad variants of colour and dynamics: almost a continuation of aspects of composing as pursued by the French ’Spectral’ composers during the 1970s.

Whereas in Sphäre um Sphäre (2003), Wolfgang Rihm assembles the musical line through a painstaking coming-together of diverse fragments over its course – the vertical/harmonic domain not so much yielding to the horizontal/melodic domain as evolving gradually out of it. A complement – in purely ’acoustic’ terms – to the Harvey, perhaps, and certainly a subtly effective way of bringing the concert round to its starting-point.

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