Music for strings, percussion and celesta
London Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 8 October, 2002
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
LSO Discovery Concerts are for people who want to know more about music. Whether complete beginner or seasoned listener, there’s something for everyone. Pierre Boulez spoke for 80 minutes on one of Bartók’s masterpieces, and did so in a way that was constantly compelling and illuminating – the time flew by. Any thoughts of such an evening being dry and academic can be forgotten – Boulez’s warmth, insights and sharing drew the audience in. He addressed without a script (a few notes served as an aide-mémoire), a spontaneous overlay on thoughtful preparation – and there are quite a few laughs along the way. The LSO provided musical examples to add an extra dimension to the learning process.
This opportunity to focus on one work involved a discussion of the music’s ideas and structures, its two-orchestra dialogue and the particular colours that Bartók conjures. Particularly interesting was Boulez demonstrating how the Hungarian language is absorbed into the music – the accenting of a word’s first syllable is replicated at the beginning of musical phrases: as a “transcription” of speech. In his straightforward study of Bartók’s transformation of initial ideas, whether ’pure’ music or folksong-derived, and the composer’s individuality, Boulez could not have been a more lucid or genial guide. I came away knowing the piece better.
Typical of Discovery Concerts, a complete performance followed the interval. Equally typical was the clarity of the music-making. The graduations of dynamics and variety of touch were a lesson in themselves as part of a subtle and scrupulous performance that brought to life the emotion and vibrancy of the music in the clearest possible terms.
The Bartók is played again tonight, 9th, with Mahler’s Fifth Symphony – Bartók’s concision of traditional forms offsets Mahler’s extension of them. Boulez talks about Bartók’s Miraculous Mandarin on the 16th – highly recommended in advance!