New German Music

Obst [UK premiere]
Thema mit 840 Variationen [UK premiere]
Music for Orchestra [UK premiere]
Gran passo [World premiere]
Zerstören II [UK premiere]

Mark Knoop (piano)

BBC Symphony Orchestra
André de Ridder

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 16 November, 2007
Venue: BBC Studio 1, Maida Vale, London

Enno Poppe. ©RicordiA concert of music by younger German composers such as this is only likely to find a home these days at the Maida Vale Studios.

If Enno Poppe (born 1969) is the best known of the three composers in the UK – albeit through recordings rather than performances – then the works featured here were equally the least interesting. Admittedly the first movement of Obst (2006) – its title translating as ‘Fruit’ and a ‘concerto for orchestra’ in miniature – pursues an accumulation of brief but highly-charged phrases with impressive conviction; a quality lacking in its two successors, before a final movement whose undulating waves of sound – reminiscent of 1980s’ Henze – provides the rather tentative conclusion.

More arresting was Music for Orchestra (2007) by Charlotte Seither (born 1969). As the essentially abstract title suggests, this is a work whose form evolves intuitively – though given focus by the integration of often-contrasting sound-sources; not least those emanating from a diverse range of percussion (which were introduced by the composer prior to the performance). Moreover, both the sounds themselves and the ways they are deployed were clearly audible – giving the work an expressive directness to make one keen to hear the larger work of which this piece is the first part.

More music by Seither came after the interval. Gran passo (2006) is an imaginative exploration of two nominally independent layers – played on the piano keys and directly on the piano strings – that merge and even exchange aspects of identity as the piece runs its undemonstrative course. Mark Knoop played it with requisite precision and fantasy, then confirmed a virtuoso technique in Poppe’s Thema mit 840 Variationen (1993), whose stream of cross-rhythms and metrical collisions make it an undeniably effective study in velocity – for all that the music lacks individuality as such.

Iris ter SchiphorstThe BBC Symphony Orchestra then reassembled for a performance of Zerstören II (2006) by Iris ter Schiphorst (born 1956) – best known, perhaps, for collaborative work with Helmut Ohring, but here demonstrating a formidable idiom in her own right. The title, translating as ‘Destroy’, is as unequivocal as the music in conveying abstract images of violence and dislocation, with Schiphorst ensuring that the frequent recourse to extremes – whether textural, timbral or dynamic – is underpinned by a sense of onward (not necessarily goal-directed) movement and given definition by the subliminal tonal follow-through.

The outcome is a work whose inner complexity does not preclude that visceral immediacy which both demands and holds one’s attention, not least in a performance as responsive as this. It also marked the welcome return of André de Ridder, whose expertise in this music is undoubted. A pity, though, that the BBC seems currently not to be giving its Maida Vale concerts the publicity they deserve: indeed, the only ‘difficult’ aspect about this concert was finding out whether it was happening at all!

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