Passion: The Music of Louis Andriessen – 6 October

Ittrospezione III (Concept II)
De Snelheid
La Passione [world premiere]

Cristina Zavalloni (voice)
Monica Germino (violin)
Sound Intermedia
London Sinfonietta
Oliver Knussen

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 6 October, 2002
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

An astutely-planned concert which provided three points of focus on Louis Andriessen at almost exactly equal points across his career. Certainly the maniacally intricate textures of Ittrospezione III from 1965 denote the influence of Berio’s Sequenzas, but the amplified wind ensemble which frames and intersperses with the two pianos – superbly co-ordinated by John Constable and Ian Brown – has a pungency and definition which needed simplifying harmonically and rhythmically for the characteristic Andriessen sound to fall into place. A work of its time, but a prescient one nonetheless.

On to 1983 and perhaps the most typical, sound-wise, of all Andriessen’s works. De Snelheid is an illustration of musical velocity as uncompromising as it is exhilarating. The gradual speeding-up of two sub-orchestras, goaded by their attendant ’high’ percussionists, set against the related acceleration of a third with its ’low’ percussionist, and culminating in a plateau of heightened rhythmic synchronicity, is a process which can be ’felt’ as much as heard. In contrast to earlier Andriessen performances in London, the amplification served rather than hindered the performance – sufficiently ’on the edge’ to offset any feeling of predictability.

Not that the balance worked quite as well for La Passione, completed earlier this year and the major commission for this Andriessen retrospective. Mainly it was a problem of not reflecting the very individual placing of instruments, within the ensemble and between the movements, with the degree of specificity required. This diffused the contrasts between some of the composer’s most detailed word-setting, and presented difficulties for the intertwining of charismatic violinist Monica Germino and ’chanteuse’ Cristina Zavalloni – whose light, breathy but expressive voice took a minute or two to adjust to the sound levels.

That said, this was another absorbing instance of Andriessen opening-out his expressive range, capturing the nightmarish confusion of imagery which permeates Dino Campana’s poems – most particularly the plangency of ’The Evening of the Fair’ and the (late-)Stravinskian poignancy of ’The Russian’. If the remaining four numbers lacked a comparable expressive focus, there was still a richly imaginative response to subject-matter and word-setting to confirm that – unlike certain of his disciples – Andriessen has not become mired in the image of his own musical archetype.

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