Rarescale Première Series

Night Scene
an illusory spector [world première]
Apparition and Release [European première]
Klavierstück XVI [UK première]
sound tracking
…sofferte onde serene…
into my burning veins a poison

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

Reviewed by: Timothy Ball

Reviewed: 1 July, 2005
Venue: The Space, London, E14

Carla Rees is on a mission to promote the alto flute and its repertoire – not least by commissioning new works for that instrument. She and Kerry Yong are the key members of rarescale, though the electroacoustic element was an integral feature of this interesting programme.

This concert was generally well planned; all the pieces featuredelectroacoustics with some pieces for flute or piano alone and twofound them in combination.

Fascinating though the world of electroacoustic music is, one couldn’t help feel a sense of ‘sameness’ about some of the results, as another volley of arabesques was launched from the alto flute, to be answered – invariably – by ominous pre-recorded rumblings.

David Burnand’s Night Scene was the opening item and some of the material derives from music intended for the film “This Filthy Earth”. The flute was accompanied by an array of sounds, so that the whole felt like an eerie ensemble piece. An especially effective moment was the combination of unison notes from the recorded flutes and the live instrument.

Dating from 1974, Aitsi for solo piano was the ‘oldest’ piece on theprogramme and also exists as Scelsi’s Fifth String Quartet. Isolated notes, then chords and clusters are sustained andthen ‘treated’ to distortion, rather like that heard from electricguitars, coupled with some echo and reverberation effects.

Kerry Yong and Michael Oliva had devised their own ‘version’ of this amplification, which was certainly effective; though, in the end, one was grateful that the piece was not longer than it was.

The first performance of Marc Yeats’s an illusory spector demanded considerable virtuosity from both flautist and pianist, and there was no lack of this from Rees and Yong. From the opening delicate, quasi-impressionistic interplay of scalic figuration, one could admire the interaction between the instrumentalists who were, it seemed, occasionally pursuing different paths but co-operating from time-to-time.

Some of the spiky piano writing suggested a composer well-versed in Webern, but there were two, presumably unintended, incongruous moments when the flute seemed to be about to launch into The Flight of the Bumblebee and, later on, sounded as if a cuckoo had wandered into The Space. The composer’s programme note told us that the music “wrestles and dances its way to an intense, unresolved conclusion”. I was certainly aware of the wrestling, less so of the dancing, and for a piece written this year, the whole sounded like something from the 1960s, though the commitment and conviction of the performers was not in doubt.

Apparition and Release concluded the first half, with some strikingelectroacoustic sonorities, some of which reminded me of Jonathan Harvey’s remarkable Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco (dating from 1980), but Carla Rees’s instrument seemed to be a voice of reason against a more troubled backdrop. Michael Oliva did not provide any background note for this piece, but supplied a quote from Jung: “There can be no transforming of darkness into light and of apathy into movement without emotion”. As an aural image of this notion, Apparition and Release was effective and the conclusion, with the presence of a pure major chord – something of a rarity during this evening – achieved a kind of solace, even if the flute seemed to remain somewhat uncertain.

I was delighted to encounter a live performance of Stockhausen’sKlavierstück XVI, especially as Kerry Yong captured the composer’s dictum that a performance demands “imagination and a sense of humour”. Against a segment of the electronic music from “Freitag aus Licht”, the pianist ‘picks out’ certain pitches and sonority. The co-ordination between the two was striking, with Yong using the inside of the piano for struck and glissando effects. The electronic music (which pervades a performance of the entire ‘Friday’ opera) is astonishing in its richness and fantasy and, frankly, outshone the sonorities provided by the other composers here represented.

For all his pre-eminence and, perhaps notoriety, Stockhausen’s music is still under-performed in the UK. All credit to Kerry Yong (who has worked with Stockhausen) for giving this UK première of a work dating from 1997.

sound tracking by Lorenz Dangel was the most impressive of the ‘new pieces’ given in this concert. Dangel’s intention is to create a “dialogue between the live quartertone alto flute and sound material of the same instrument represented by an electronic medium”. He was unquestionably successfulin this. Moreover, the variety of sounds from all sources had freshness and inventiveness, and was not without welcome good humour especially when rhythmic pulsation and a ‘cool’melodic line almost turned into a sort of sophisticated blues.

Dangel is not yet 30, but this music suggests a composer with a vivid and inventive musical imagination. I look forward to hearing more of him.

The intensity of Nono’s …sofferte onde serene…, written in 1976 for Maurizio Pollini and dedicated to Pollini and his wife, was a different matter altogether. The pianist plays against a pre-recorded piano background, and the severity of the material often makes it difficult to discern the ‘serenity’ of the waves of the title.

Unfortunately, various ‘noises off’ prevented full appreciation of both Nono’s conception and Yong’s responsive playing, and somehow this piece did not seem to quite ‘fit’ with the remainder of the programme.

The concluding into my burning veins a poison, by Patrick Nunn, was the winning work of the 2004 rarescale/RCM alto flute composition competition, and derives from incidental music for Racine’s “Phaedra”. Indeed, it is a musical commentary on Phaedra’s moment of suicide. The final line from the play is heard in a garbled and whispered form, whilst the piano and alto flute weave agitated lines, eventually achieving a tranquillity of sorts.

Throughout, one was immensely impressed by the dedication of the performers, and their enterprise in promoting a programme of this kind is bold indeed and much to be commended.

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