Out Hear

Salvatore Sciarrino
Let Me Die Before I Wake
John Woolrich
A presence of Departed Acts
Gerald Barry
In the Asylum
Morgan Hayes
Dances on a Ground [UK premiere]
Huw Watkins
John Woolrich
A Dramolet [London premiere]
Thomas Adès
Court Studies

Composers Ensemble [Duncan Prescott (clarinet), David Le Page (violin), Adrian Bradbury (cello) & Huw Watkins (piano)]

Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel

Reviewed: 28 September, 2009
Venue: Hall 2, Kings Place, London

“Out Hear” is a series of events and concerts showcasing and curated by composers in the contemporary or experimental, and multi-media field. This performance brought together six short chamber pieces (none lasting longer than twelve minutes) with Thomas Adès’s Court Studies replacing Franco Donatoni’s Spice.

Sciarrino’s opening Let Me Die Before I Wake (1982) for solo clarinet, is typical of a composer whose music explores the boundaries between sound and silence. Out of the mist of scrapping and tapping effects emerge tentative, fragmentary melodies over a slow ostinato. Duncan Prescott conveyed the sense of nature and the “destiny of music … entrusted to the wind”.

John Woolrich’s two pieces contrast different moods. A Presence of Departed Acts is built on a series of eleven piano chords providing the backbone of a structure on which the other instruments build upon. The mood is that of remembrance, punctuated with outbursts of astringency. A Dramolet features piano chorales which bookend playful interchanges between clarinet and cello, and moments of lyrical reflection. The members of the Composers Ensemble showed here, as they did all evening, why they are so highly regarded in contemporary music, with performances of these works which were highly committed and quite thrilling.

Huw Watkins’s delightful miniature Dream is a nod in the direction of Bartók’s Contrasts, and benefited from the Ensemble’s razor-like precision in the portrayal of the folk-inspired melodies.

Able to adapt themselves to any mood, the Ensemble brought out the shifting, contrasting moods of Morgan Hayes’s recent Dances on a Ground, a lighter work in the context of much of the angst of the other pieces, and staccato interchanges brought the work to an amusing conclusion.

Gerald Barry’s trio In the Asylum is typical of this composer – in the way his music is uncompromisingly presented – constantly verging on extreme emotion. The opening tentative passages are taken up by the violin, exploding into real anger with the introduction of the other instruments. The trio of piano, violin and cello was pushed to limits by the force of the storm in the central section, eventually blowing themselves out into a coda of muted piano chords.

Court Studies was adapted by Adès from his opera the “The Tempest”. Scored for piano, clarinet, violin and cello and consisting of six continuous movements it is a sparkling piece, full of Elizabethan references and dances. Pleasing was the way the players brought out the playfulness and inventiveness of Adès’s writing, at times teetering into self-conscious brilliance but always hugely engaging.

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