Luigi Nono: Fragments of Venice [Royal Academy of Music III]

Densité 21.5
For Benjamin
‘Hay que caminar’ soñando

Othonas Gkogkas (flute) and Pedro Meireles & Giovanni Guzzo (violins)

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 22 October, 2007
Venue: David Josefowitz Recital Hall, Royal Academy of Music, London

This early-evening event in the “Luigi Nono: Fragments of Venice” festival commenced unassumingly but reached a powerful close.

Among Bruno Maderna’s last chamber works, Dialodia (1972) exemplifies his later music in miniature – with the two instruments unfolding (or rather creating) a supple melodic line in expressive polyphony, rendered by Pedro Meireles and Othonas Gkogkas with rapt intensity.

Gkogkas then gave a surprisingly uninvolved account of Varèse’s Densité 21.5 (1936), its emotional peaks lacking acuteness and the important silences between phrases largely passed over. Inspired by Debussy’s Syrinx the piece may be, but it should not sound like a crude derivative of the earlier piece.

The two musicians duly reassembled for a work by RAM postgraduate Paul Evernden. Dedicated to his godson, For Benjamin (2007) is a duet that finds considerable variety within its essentially tranquil demeanour. Perhaps the not-quite-unison sequences of the closing minutes rather outstayed theirwelcome, but the deftness and resource of the instrumental interplay more than held one’s interest.

Inevitably, though, the hour-long recital was dominated by a performance of Nono’s ‘Hay que caminar’ soñando (1989). The composer’s last completed work, and the final piece in a loose trilogy inspired by the inscription on a monastery wall in Toledo, it pushes to new limits Nono’s predilection for refracted textures and the eliding of sound and silence, as it also does that relationship between interpretative spontaneity and notational precision common to all the works from Nono’s last decade.

The present account was the result of long and arduous preparation by Pedro Meireles and Giovanni Guzzo, and the fruits of an intensive workshop with Irvine Arditti (who, together with David Alberman, gave the premiere in 1990 – following discussion with the ailing composer) held the previous Friday were everywhere in evidence. Deploying an effective placing of music stands – the two players alternating between the platform and rear of the hall for the first two sections, before coming together on the platform for the final part – it made full use of the acoustic, and gave a discreet dramatising to the concept of sound (and players) searching for a ‘way forward’ that can never become so in reality.

Suffice to say the performance vindicated a work that had previously seemed a provisional ending to its composer’s output – while confirming that, wherever his music may have been headed at his death, Nono’s perception of sound as ‘travelling’ in time and space was undiminished. As the dissemination of his work by a new generation becomes an ever greater priority, the role of musicians who evince such sensitivity and responsiveness cannot be gainsaid: those who attended this remarkably cohesive and involving account could not but have felt other than confident for the future of this singular music.

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