Hymnen – Region 3, No.22 2/3
Clio Gould (violin)
Sound Intermedia (sound projection)
Royal Academy of Music Manson Ensemble
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 5 December, 2015
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Eight years on from his untimely death and Stockhausen performances continue to be notable occasions on the London music scene; one such accordingly dominating this concert which otherwise served as a (seemingly) final tribute to Pierre Boulez during the year of his 90th-birthday.
Hymnen (1966-67), Stockhausen’s vast edifice of “electronic and concrete music”, represents a watershed between his often highly formalised earlier work and the more intuitive thinking that came increasingly into play. Its most impressive aspect is its inclusiveness, as prepared through those increasingly ambitious electronic works the composer had been creating since the early 1950s. The strategy of Hymnen lies in the “embrace of humanity” here made actual through an extensive and imaginative deployment of National Anthems as its creative nucleus.
The four regions of Hymnen play for some 113 minutes. Each channels a selection of Anthems through the process of intermodulation, isolating one musical aspect of a particular Anthem then superimposing it onto an aspect of another. The outcome often transforms them beyond recognition, so that only a sense of the ceremonial remains. ‘Region Three’ (dedicated to John Cage), heard in its 1969 version with orchestra, continues a fragmenting of the Russian Anthem from its predecessor, into whose orbit imperceptibly enters ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ – complemented at one point by chant-like rendering of ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’. This latter’s refrains encompass the Anthems of Israel, Turkey and Ireland, before a heady blast of retrograde feedback sends accrued momentum fairly spinning round the auditorium. That from Spain tentatively emerges as the overall soundscape begins to lose focus, a rather peremptory announcement of the Swiss one duly leading into ‘Region Four’ – though here the music is allowed to fade out across layers of resonance on the strings.
The present performance, given by the combined forces of the London Sinfonietta and Royal Academy of Music Manson Ensemble, for the greater part conveyed the fantasy and humour (an often overlooked aspect of Stockhausen’s art) of this music with the requisite clarity and precision. The only real proviso was the balancing of an electronic component which, on this occasion, failed to project with the necessary impact at significant junctures; emphasis remaining on the orchestra whose gradually shifting timbres and textures directly anticipate those technical and expressive concerns of Stockhausen’s next decade. Not that there was any notable loss of momentum, thanks to Wolfgang Lischke’s assured and spirited direction. Might he and these musicians return before long for a timely revival of the original orchestral version of Mixtur?
The potential for enriching the spatial and transformational possibilities of music in real-time are to the fore in Boulez’s Anthèmes 2 (1997). This elaborates the solo-violin pyrotechnics of its predecessor into a spiraling sequence of sonorities; live electronics bringing a dynamic intensity to its strophes together with a multi-layered ambience to its refrains – Clio Gould’s playing enhanced throughout by resourceful balancing from Sound Intermedia. Before this, Dérive 1 (1984) emerged once again as a marvel of motivic ingenuity and textural intricacy.
- This performance of the Stockhausen will be broadcast by BBC Radio 3 as part of a complete presentation of Hymnen on Friday 1 January