Prom 28 – Ligeti’s Adventures

Ebony Concerto
Snatches of a Conversation [UK premiere]
Secret Room – Sonata No.3
Clarinet Concerto
Nouvelles aventures

Michael Collins (clarinet)

Marco Blaauw (trumpet)

Barbara Hannigan (soprano)
Mary King (mezzo-soprano)
Omar Ebrahim (baritone / noise-maker)

London Sinfonietta
Peter Eötvös

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 8 August, 2003
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

The era of Round House and three-part Proms may be long gone, but the performance of what one might even nostalgically call avant-garde music continues in such as this late-evening concert from the London Sinfonietta. An attractive miscellany opened with Stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto – played engagingly by Michael Collins from within the ensemble, as befits this gem of reconstituted swing.

Not much connection between this and Snatches of a Conversation, Peter Eötvös’s fascinating amalgam of chamber music and melodrama. Here the reciter becomes ’noise-maker’ – in this instance Omar Ebrahim, relaying his associative tract with a whisper of needle-sharp precision, while Marco Blaauw projected the concertante trumpet part with insinuating elegance. A major force in the electronic studio prior to becoming established as a conductor, and long before being recognised as a composer of distinction, Eötvös has here produced an intriguing piece which cannot be categorised.

After a welcome revival for Secret Room, Detlev Glanert’s brief but cumulatively intense study in the overlapping of instrumental layers, Collins returned for the Clarinet Concerto by Elliott Carter. Composed in his 88th year, this is the most concentrated example of Carter’s concerto writing, in which soloist and orchestra interact in a dialogue which takes us through the composer’s familiar – but ever fresh – range of characters and temperaments. Collins’s tone might have been a little more varied between the movements, but his overall fluency was impressive, and his moving between instrumental groups was a Boulezian touch – deftly accomplished.

This year’s Proms is featuring a number of works marking György Ligeti’s 80th birthday, with the pairing of Aventures / Nouvelles aventures the most substantial. For all the theatrics in which this diptych of intelligent nonsense abounds, this is essentially concert music – the three vocalists ’going the distance’ against a backdrop of torn paper and smashed tea services. Not that the latter could be as uproarious as in a 1971 Prom at the Round House under Boulez. But then, this music must have seemed dangerous 30 years ago; now it feels merely ’off the wall’ in its humour, though no less subversive for that.

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