Impressive New Music from the London Sinfonietta


Woolrich, Feshareki, Davies, Adès, Messiaen : London Sinfonietta, Kings Place, London 1.7.2011 (GDn)

John Woolrich: The Night will not draw on
Shiva Feshareki:
departing in peace, arriving with love world premiere
Tansy Davies:
Tymbal Organ world premiere
John Woolrich
:A Presence of Departed Acts
Thomas Adès:
Court Studies from The Tempest
Olivier Messiaen:
Quartor pour la fin du temps

Most new music concerts seem obsessed with ideas of beginnings and of new directions. How refreshing, then, to meet a programme dedicated to the exact opposite, to ideas of departure and conclusion. And despite the Quartet for the End of Time dominating the evening, the whole programme was impressively balanced and coherent.

The evening was curated by John Woolrich, and the concert opened with his The Night will not draw on. This piano trio is filled with everything that is best about Woolrich’s music. The ideas are strong and clearly presented, force is used, but never for its own sake, and the form is direct but never to the point of pedantry. The work was commissioned to commemorate the bicentenary of Haydn’s death, but beyond the instrumentation it is difficult to think of any connections with Haydn’s work. But no matter, it is a fine piece in its own right, and an impressive example of how a traditional instrumental grouping can be reinvigorated without worrying unduly about the weight of history behind it.

arriving in peace, departing in love was a late addition to the programme from Shiva Feshareki, a young composer who has been participating on a London Sinfonietta education programme. On the evidence of this short but accomplished work for solo clarinet, no further education is necessary. Her knowledge of the clarinet is impressive in itself, and while none of the extended techniques are new, the way that they are integrated into the substance of the music is impressive. So for example, she will include Gershwin-esque glissandos, but then she will write whole phrases with the player sliding around the individual registers. Growls from the throat play a big part in the music, and again, the way that they seem so integrated into the ideas really focusses the work. The form is either obscure or non-existent, but that hardly matters when the relationships between the various timbres can hold the work together.

The other première in the programme was Tymbal Organ by Tansy Davies. I was less impressed with this one, although it essentially did the same things as Feshareki’s work. Davies writes for violin and cello, and there are some interesting effects in there, like a cello glissando involving all four fingers on the same string to create microtonal shifts as the fingers go up and down within the broader context of the glissando. Considering how difficult it is to describe this effect, I dread to think how it is notated. There is a lot of tapping on the body of the instruments, which becomes interesting when it happens in rhythmic unison with bowed notes on the other. In general, the textures are heterophonic, occasionally based on fragile unisons, but more often with one player leading the other through the sequences of notes and textures.

Thomas Ades really showed his compatriots how it is done with his Court Studies for ‘The Tempest’. These short vignettes, conveniently scored for the same ensemble as the Messiaen, are apparently freely adapted from the opera, and they certainly feel like they have been drawn from a broader soundscape. Like Messiaen, Ades is able to not only transcend, but completely ignore the apparent restrictions of musical scope imposed by the use of just four instruments. There are shades of Britten here, more in the mood than in the actual rhythmic of harmonic language. Or perhaps Britten is simply invoked by the sheer mastery of instrumentation and colour that Ades, despite his youth, is able to draw on.

Quartet for the End of Time is one of the few ‘Modern’ works to be regularly performed by core-repertoire ensembles. With that in mind, it was very interesting to hear it played by new music specialists. These players know their Andriessen and they know Gorecki, so they know how to turn things up to 11. The dogged intensity that persists through many of the movements was impressively conveyed, and it really filled the resonant space of the Kings Place hall. There was emotion here too, but not a hint of sentimentality. It was a crisp and precise performance, but never cold or calculated. In fact, the whole concert was impressively played. Only four players where involved, and virtuoso feats were expected of all at one point or another. But nothing fazed them, and we were treated to an evening of close to ideal performances.

Gavin Dixon


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