Rarescale – Images and Imagination

viento sonoro [UK premiere]
Le merle noir
Imagining Mariana
A London Moment (Get Up!)
Seasons [World premiere]
Bali Moods No.1
dew (encloaking wild herbs)
Couleurs du vent
His Anxiety [World premiere]

Carla Rees (alto flute & flute)
Kerry Yong (piano)
Michael Oliva (electroacoustics)

Reviewed by: Edward Lewis

Reviewed: 25 November, 2005
Venue: The Space, London, E14

Waiting in hushed anticipation, sitting around our small, candle-lit tables, sipping our drinks in the nave of the converted church that is The Space, surrounded by the photographic works of the multi-talented Carla Rees, the oddly assorted collection of contemporary music aficionados that was the rather select audience had the chance to eye each other suspiciously.

Opening the concert with a combination of flute, bass flute, and off-stage percussion, Rees gave the UK premiere of viento sonoro by Orlando Jiacinto Garcia. His work explores the tones and textures afforded by the flute whilst remaining firmly within the confines of a coherent musical structure. Using a combination of repeated phrases and breath effects, Rees effortlessly coaxed a hauntingly beautiful tone from her instruments.

Aldo Clementi’s Madrigale for prepared piano and tape introduced Kerry Young. Based on the concepts of canonic structure and sixteenth-century partsongs, the effect was that of a child’s toy pianola. Young plays with great presence and accuracy, and seems to revel in the complexity of such music. The concepts behind this piece are, however, more interesting than their realisation, with the time required for the mathematical working-out of the music verging on the overly long.

Returning to more familiar territory, Messiaen’s Le merle noir allowed both Rees and Young to demonstrate their technical mastery. Playing with a refreshing lack of pretension, Rees flowed through perfectly tuned and sparkling passages. Her broad, sweeping tone was playfully contrasted with some delightfully light, almost mischievous sections, leading energetically to a vibrant, concise and controlled ending.

For the first of two electroacoustic compositions by Julia Kny, Imagining Mariana, we were plunged into darkness and treated to the gentle construction of a fantasy soundworld. Not only did the recording demonstrate intelligent and advanced technical ability, but also an ability to imaginatively construct aural structures from layers of well-chosen sounds. Her second piece, A London Moment (Get Up!), presented later in the evening, was more challenging to the listener. Listening to the repeated electronic tones sandwiched between disturbing klaxon effects, I found myself wondering if it is possible to create a substantial piece of electronic music in this fashion without introducing a nightmare-like quality into the music. I very much look forward to hearing more of Kny’s music in the hope of finding an answer.

Charles Boone’s Seasons presented the thoughtful listener with more philosophical quandaries. Representing the Seasons Fountain in San Francisco, the piece used a combination of quarter-tones, multiphonics and a repeated falling motif to portray this image. All superbly played by Rees, with tender tonal shading and dynamic control, but the inclusion of a recording of a fountain seemed almost to go against the spirit of musical evocation, and became merely an extra-musical distraction.

Kaija Saariaho’s Couleurs du vent amply demonstrated that Rees is just as at home using electronics in her live performance as not, with the use of a microphone with reverb and half-sentences whispered down the alto flute. Rees genuinely seemed to bring the flute to life, breathing the music through her instrument in a natural and organic way. One was left with the feeling of having been present at some mysterious conjuring.

Working the electronic aspects of the performance was Michael Oliva, and his own composition His Anxiety was premiered at the conclusion of the concert. With a recording straight from random short-wave radio transmissions and a virtuoso piano part in addition to the flute, the piece was challenging to both performers and audience. The music explored some intriguing relationships between speech-driven recording and live instruments, the climactic ending both terrifying and gripping.

Yet the highlights of the programme were two very different pieces. The first, Anne Boyd’s Bali Moods No.1 heralded a return to the combined styles of John Adams, Michael Torke and Aaron Jay Kernis. A truly energetic piece, based on the Balinese Pelog scale, the music had a solid and dependable yet flowing quality. Rees and Young brought a sparkle and emotional vector to the piece, without obscuring the music’s own dance-like character, and – amazingly given the taxing nature of the music – without showing any signs of tiring.

dew (encloaking wild herbs) for piano and electroacoustics, by Nadja Gabriela Plein, gave new meaning and import to the practice of playing alongside an electroacoustic track. The technically brilliant piano part wound round the electroacoustics, and vice versa, ethereally playing with tonal and pitch-based similarities and differences, developing and exploring the multitude of musical possibilities that this approach opens up. The composition of a piece that is intelligently constructed, technically masterful, musically formed and still an acoustic pleasure is all too rare, and ‘dew’ stood out as having all these properties in abundance. Plein is a highly talented composer.

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