New to London II – Concert 16th May

Richard Rijnvos
Block Beuys – Raum 2 (UK premiere)
Esa-Pekka Salonen
Mania (UK premiere)
Charles Wuorinen
Cyclops (2000)
(Risk Waters Group commission for the London Sinfonietta: world premiere)

Anssi Karttunen (cello)
London Sinfonietta conducted by Oliver Knussen

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 16 May, 2001
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

The second of this season’s ’New to London’ concerts featured a disparate triptych of works by composers who, for varying reasons, are not as well enough known here as they should be.

Certainly the music of Richard Rijnvos manifests links with such European contemporaries as Helmut Oehring; in both cases, the physical quality of sound not so much moving in time as existing in space. Raum 2 continues his sonic rendering of the Block Beuys room-installations by German visual-artist Joseph Beuys. The diverse, even conflicting nature of this second installation is reflected in pungent, gestural music whose organ-cluster provides the only, often far from discernible, continuity. To be experienced outwardly rather than absorbed inwardly, but a distinctive contribution to an important facet of current musical thinking.

With his rapid rise to podium-stardom in the mid-1980s, it is easy to forget that Esa-Pekka Salonen initially came to prominence as a composer at the same time as his Finnish compatriots Magnus Lindberg and Kaija Saariaho. Recent years have seen time set aside for new compositional projects, of which Mania is perhaps the most impressive yet. Paring material down to melodic and rhythmic essentials, the piece establishes a ’moto perpetuo’ demeanour from the outset, the cello part functioning as a melodic line which articulates the manifold ensemble texture. Of course, having a cellist of Anssi Kartunen’s capability helps enormously in propelling the music through its varied yet seamless course, towards a headlong but emotionally clinching conclusion.

Finally to Charles Wuorinen and Cyclops (2000). Long respected across the Atlantic as composer, performer and musical ’enabler’, Wuorinen has in some quarters been typified as an academic East Coast figure; wrongly, as his large and varied output combines intellectual rigour with a dynamic, often capricious approach to form and expression. Not least in Cyclops – a concerto for 20 players which passes through interrelated harmonic and rhythmic cycles, notable for their fluidity of relationships within the ensemble, on its way to a compressed but climactic fusion of musical constituents. The degree to which progressively shorter, but increasingly complex, episodes compact in intensity makes for gripping listening, as Wuorinen controls momentum with an almost Varese-ian panache. Tailor-made for the streamlined virtuosity of the Knussen-led Sinfonietta, and a work which will wear well.

Indeed, this short but well-proportioned three-part concert demonstrated just what is happening in an age often perceived as lacking in intellectual and expressive vitality. There is plenty more such music for future ’New to London’ events to draw upon.

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