Stretching but Rewarding Listening, Courtesy of the London Sinfonietta

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Scelsi, Ligeti, Murail, Haas Mark van de Wiel (clarinet); London Sinfonietta/Thierry Fischer. Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 28.3.2015 (CC)

Scelsi               Kya
Ligeti               Chamber Concerto
Murail             La Chambre des Cartes
Haas             “Ich suchte, aber ich fand nicht”

My colleague Mark Berry reviewed the first concert in this two-part series Spectrum in Sound back in late February. Here, then, was the second of the two, a reminder of the special work of the London Sinfonietta. It was a reminder also of just how remarkable it is to go and hear music that stretches the listener, that makes him or her think as well as feel, that challenges before bestowing its rewards.

 For those new to the idea of “spectral music”, Professor Jonathan Cross gave a phenomenal spoken introduction in the pre-concert talk, starting from Rameau (Pygmalion, 1748) and linking the idea of a ‘corps sonore’ to a 1975 work by Grisey. Anyone lucky enough to have this as an introduction to this fascinating stream of contemporary music, spectral music, and then to hear these important works performed with such expertise in the concert, was lucky indeed.

 Composed in 1959, Giacinto Scelsi’s Kya for clarinet and ensemble is a wonderfully elusive work that featured the liquid clarinet of Mark van de Wiel, massively expressive in his delivery of the work’s long lines. The use of microtones seemed to enhance this expressivity. This delicate world demands great control from its players; that control was received here just as the vital timbral shifts were given full due. The surface sometimes felt like a chameleon slowly changing hue.

 Ligeti’s Chamber Concerto is probably the best-known piece of the programme. Characteristic microtonally ululating textures, the sudden octaves and the “broken clock” impression (what the composer refers to as a “half-broken precision mechanism”) were all brilliantly honoured by the Sinfonietta under Thierry Fischer’s sure guidance.

 One of the most famous of the spectralists, Tristan Murail (b.1947) is a fascinating voice in the music of our time. His La Chambre des Cartes (or, “the invitation to a journey”), is inspired by Jules Verne and offers the primal energies of percussion against spectral chords in the non-piano instruments. There is a very French fascination with the fragile beauty of sound itself in this piece, resulting in a fascinating combination of the subtle with the monolithic. Finally, “Ich suchte, aber ich fand ihn nicht” by Georg Friedrich Haas (b.1953), whose music is massively under-performed, certainly in the UK. There was a deeper, richer basis to Haas’ harmonies, but no less beauty than in the Murail. This piece is in some ways an exploration in varying rates of glissandi. A shifting landscape that gradually brightens, there is nevertheless a dark beauty underpinning the terrain. This is a stunning work, and the perfect way to close a concert that left this listener, at least, wanting more.


Colin Clarke