El amor brujo … The Hague Hacking … Mother Goose … Boléro

Composer Portrait:

Louis Andriessen
A Very Sharp Trumpet Sonata
A Very Sad Trumpet Sonata [UK premiere]
Image de Moreau
Bells for Haarlem [UK premiere]

Louis Andriessen in conversation with Andrew McGregor

Musicians from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama [Chris Evans (trumpet), Richard Uttley (piano), Alexandra Raikhlina (violin), Louise Morgan (percussion), Catherine Ring (percussion & synthensizer) & Tomas Besnard (celesta)]

Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall, Royal College of Music, London

Prom 43:

El amor brujo [selections]
Louis Andriessen
The Hague Hacking [UK premiere]
Ma Mère l’oye

Katia & Marielle Labèque (pianos)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Esa-Pekka Salonen

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 17 August, 2009
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Katia (right) & Marielle Labèque. Photograph: Brigitte LacombeDutchman Louis Andriessen, seventy this year, was interviewed before the UK premiere of his new work, and revealed an impish sense of humour. The Hague Hacking was played by the Labèque sisters, who gave the world premiere in Los Angeles in January (also with Esa-Pekka Salonen). Both the new piece, and the works expertly played by musicians from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in the “Composer Portrait”, showed a mellow Andriessen.

Andriessen’s two short trumpet sonatas – the first for Oliver Knussen’s 50th-birthday, the second for the lady who ran the Composer’s Foundation in Holland (now “destroyed” by politicians) – may be the start of a series. The first follows sonata form – just over a minute and is in three movements: a musical bonsai, perfect in every detail. The second was in two movements – “more modern” than sonata form – the slow second movement a tribute to a well-liked lady and also a lament.

The piano toccata – its title inspired by Gustave Moreau symbolist paintings – Image de Moreau, starts with the “rhythm of Prokofiev’s Toccata and the notes of Ravel’s” and mixes modern-world (“New York cool”) and 19th-century French restraint. Originally composed to be played alongside a complete cycle of Bach toccatas, its glittering, diamond-like sheen is another example of Andriessen’s expert miniaturism.

The solo violin piece Xenia is also inspired by various impetuses: architecture (the first movement glissandos); Satie; chickens (the irrepressible second movement); Rambaud’s descriptions of colours (the slower third movement) … enjoyable enough not knowing any of that.

Louis AndriessenFinally Bells for Haarlem, evoking church bells in the Dutch town, and celebrating the two Jerusalem bells brought back by a Dutch Crusader. Played in unison, the chimes induce a mesmeric state, eventually separating. As with all the Guildhall School musicians’ performances, there was a definite aura of authenticity in the playing, and it was a pleasure to get to know some of Andriessen’s smaller-scale pieces.

In the Prom, The Hague Hacking was similarly subtle. Even the chopping dance popular in The Hague in the late 1990s, directly referred to in the second word of the work’s Dutch title Haags Hakkûh, was not as dramatic as expected, nor the rumbustious ‘Cat Concerto’ from the cartoon series “Tom and Jerry”, which Andriessen (happily admitting to stealing music) only belatedly discovered was originally Liszt’s Second Hungarian Rhapsody. He also uses the unofficial anthem “O, O, The Hague”, eventually given to the whole orchestra with Messiaen-like scoring, before a hushed ending.

It was all highly engaging and not immediately combative, while Andriessen’s trademark hocketing (the passing of notes of a melody) was rather genteel. Certainly the swapping of phrases, even notes, cames over well. Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra were equal to the piece’s difficulties.

Salonen framed The Hague Hacking with more dance. Bookending the concert were Falla and Ravel Spanish dances, from El amor brujo (ending with ‘Ritual Fire Dance’) to start and Boléro to end. Although essentially a party-piece, Salonen played the latter absolutely straight, aided by David Corkhill’s steady side drum, which started indiscernibly, so that Ravel’s extended crescendo really did appear out of nothing. The elongated hocketing that Ravel indulges in – with whole verses of the theme played by an instrument, or a combination thereof, before moving on to another – was expertly judged, a missing bar from the E flat clarinet notwithstanding. Particularly effective was the pairing of flute and trumpet, though the two piccolo and bass clarinet combinations – as ever – seemed to go awry.

The star of the concert was Ravel’s Mother Goose in its complete form. Salonen fashioned an exquisite performance, moulding the music in a giant arc that leads to the wonderful apotheosis of ‘Le jardin féerique’. With not a note out of place, the Philharmonia was responsive to Ravel’s every nuance.

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