News from Europe

Perduto in una città d’acque
Archeologia del telefono [UK premiere]
Eine Stimme 1-3 [UK premiere]
locus…doublure…solus [UK premiere]

Nicolas Hodges (piano)

Susan Bickley (mezzo-soprano)

Sound Intermedia (sound design)

London Sinfonietta
Martyn Brabbins

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 6 May, 2006
Venue: Jerwood Hall, LSO St Luke's, Old Street, London

This concert by the London Sinfonietta, sounding fresh and immediate in the lively acoustic of Jerwood Hall, focussed on four pieces by three composers who variously epitomise the spirit of restless enterprise and methodical experiment common to much of the music currently emerging from Western Europe.

And to which Salvatore Sciarrino has been making a significant if ambivalent contribution for three decades. Of the pieces heard on this occasion, Perduto in una città d’acque (1991) is in one sense a tribute to Luigi Nono, though its becalmed sonorities and distant harmonics – inferring an activity that stays out of focus – are typical of Sciarrino’s piano-writing and hardly needed a memorial catalyst to be heard. Nicolas Hodges did justice to its innate understatement, while the Sinfonietta was as persuasive in Archeologia del telefono (2005): an evocation of communication rendered meaningless by technology, whose accruing of incident without a similar increase in intensity is again typical of this composer – and whose culmination in the archetypal mobile-phone ring is Sciarrinian humour at its most barbed.

Where Sciarrino is obliqueness personified, Wolfgang Rihm can seem almost too weighed down by the inherited weight of tradition. Eine Stimme 1-3 (2005) is among the most recent of his works to have evolved as a multi-part sequence; almost a ‘concerto for voice and ensemble’, though the former onlyassumes prominence as the work progresses. Most interesting is the way in which ideas are variously outlined in the relatively extended first piece, then augmented expressively in the ‘Aria’ of the second piece and finally intensified – to the point where the relationship between the voice and instruments effectively breaks down – in the third. Susan Bickley was in commanding form, and if the work failed to sustain itself overall, this is nothing new in the context of Rihm’s wilfully uneven output as a whole.

Highly varied as it is between individual works and series thereof, Rihm’s music often seems to lack a distinctive or identifying soundworld – something that could hardly be levelled at Olga Neuwirth, whose locus…doublure…solus (2001) occupied the second half. Whether in plangent wind and brass playing at extremes of register, or the overlapping of figuration from piano and sampler-keyboard so that an astringent new sonority emerges, this is scoring characteristic and personal. More unsettling was the degree to which the music betrayed external influences – notably Messiaen in the sonorities of the piano writing and Reich, no less, in the frequently motoric rhythms – such as one would not have expected from a piece coming a year after her breakthrough orchestral work Clinamen/Nodus.

While this lessened interest in the work as music, it did not undermine its overall cogency of form: the seven movements played in the original sequence which Hodges and Martyn Brabbins apparently considered the best. In a performance as fluent and as motivated as this, it was hard not to agree.

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