Philharmonia Orchestra Music of Today – Gérard Grisey’s Vortex temporum

Vortex temporum

Andrew Zolinsky (piano)
Members of the Philharmonia Orchestra [Michael Cox (flutes), Mark van de Wiel (clarinets), Andrew Haveron (violin), Nicholas Bootiman (viola) & Timothy Walden (cello)]
Pascal Rophé

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 31 May, 2012
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Gérard Grisey (1946-1998)The music of Gérard Grisey has fared well at Southbank Centre, with performances of his cycle Les Espaces Acoustiques and the valedictory Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil having been among the highlights of its contemporary music coverage in recent years.

For this penultimate recital of her first season as Artistic Director of the Philharmonia Orchestra’s Music of Today series (at 6 p.m. and coming before the concert conducted by Edward Gardner), Unsuk Chin programmed Vortex temporum – the large-scale triptych Grisey wrote for Ensemble Recherché between 1994 and 1996 and which stands among the most impressive works of a legacy that was cut short by the composer’s sudden death in 1998 at the age of 52.

In its ceaselessly inventive interplay of wave-forms, breath patterns and micro-intervals, Vortex temporum presents a wealth of diverse material whose assimilation is abetted by the systematic though also cumulative ordering of events over the course of its 42-minute whole. The first part juxtaposes music both effervescent and methodical, while the second unfolds as a processional whose steadily accruing momentum carries over into the final section in which previous ideas are further evolved and considerably intensified on the way to a powerful culmination; one, moreover, which is set in relief by the deadpan expression of the final bars.

As a showpiece with substance, Vortex temporum has few rivals among ensemble works of the past quarter-century and the present performance did it full justice. Finely as the Philharmonia players responded to the unflappable direction of Pascal Rophé, it was Andrew Zolinsky who most readily claimed the limelight – not least in the lengthy cadenza near the end of the first part, that reaches “the boundaries of virtuosity” (to quote the composer), which was as gripping to hear as it was to watch.

This was an impressive near-end to an eventful Music of Today season (which culminates on 28 June). The programme for 2012-13 looks to be as arresting in content as it will doubtless prove in performance.

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