A Fascinating Evening with Ensemble Intercontemporain

United KingdomUnited Kingdom   Dallapiccola, Bruno Mantovani, Schoenberg. Ensemble Intercontemporain ,Wigmore Hall, London, 11.11.2014 (CC)

Dallapiccola Due Studi (1946/7)
Mantovani Carnaval
Schoenberg Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21

Brevity in an evening concert is not necessarily a bad thing. This concert finished at 9:10pm yet seemed of perfect duration. All three pieces were demanding for the listener in their different ways; and all three offered great rewards.

Luigi Dallapiccola’s Due Studi for violin and piano is contemporaneous with his opera Il prigioniero, and they grew out of the music for a film project that failed to reach fruition. With a total duration of just over ten minutes, they make their point clearly and economically. The movements are ‘Sarabanda’ and ‘Fanfara e fuga’; both are dodecaphonic and each has its own tone-row. The ‘Sarabanda’ is imbued with lyricism; some of the gestures are decidedly Romantic in intent, if not in harmony. The ‘Fanfara e fuga’ is composed with more obvious rigour and the lines are more angular. Both soloists – perhaps particularly the pianist – were of the first rank, with violinist Hae-Sung Kam finding a lovely legato and pianist Hideki Nagano sensitive throughout.

Bruno Mantovani (b.1974) does not have enough pieces played this side of The Channel as he deserves. Director of the Paris Conservatoire, his music is challenging sonically – and at all levels, really – but ultimately rewarding. His Carnaval received its world première here. Scored for clarinet, cello and piano, the second movement (of eight) is entitled ‘Pierrot’, making a nice link to the piece in tonight’s second half. Mantovani relishes uncomfortable sounds – the high-pitched opening is dominated by squeaky gestures in the extreme high registers of the clarinet and cello. Demands are huge and the pianist, Nagano again, excelled in the extended tremolandi, for example, or in the deliberately percussive gestures, while the clarinettist handled the circular breathing with ease. One thing was absolutely sure: when contemporary music is played at this high standard, it can be spellbinding. The devotion of the players (clarinettist Jéröme Comte and cellist Eric-Maria Couturier joined Nagano) was beyond doubt. Extreme contrasts were given their full worth, so that simple gestures, such as a short chorale that brought to mind Kurtág made their point fully.

Finally, we heard Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, still sounding as fresh as it did a century ago. Soprano Salomé Haller was the faultless soloist in a performance it is hard to imagine could be bettered. Her swoony Sprechgesang was delivered with just the right amount of feel for pitch, while each movement was expertly characterised. Her voice has a huge range, so that her low register in ‘Gebet an Pierrot’ was perfectly formed. The shadow of a waltz in ‘Chopin’ was glorious, while ‘Raub’ was full of drama. Fairly mobile, Haller could transform herself into a comedia dell’arte figure (the miming of the guillotine in ‘Galgenlied’, perhaps). The Ensemble Intercontemporain seemed as one with her vision, the individual instrumental lines perfectly delineated.

This was a fascinating concert. It would have been good to see a larger audience there – there were plenty of spare seats – but for those of us present, this was a gift.

Colin Clarke

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