The London Sinfonietta Continues to Champion Contemporary Music

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Sciarrino, Berio, Terranova, Filidei: Anna Radziejewska (mezzo-soprano); London Sinfonietta / Marco Angius (conductor), St John’s, Smith Square, London, 13.10.2016. (CC)

Daniela Terranova – Notturno in forma di rosa (2009, UK premiere)
Francesco Filidei – Ballata No. 2 (2011, UK premiere)
Salvatore Sciarrino – Immagina il deserto (2016, UK premiere); … da un Divertimento (1970)
Luciano Berio – Folksong Suite (1964)

There is a certain satisfaction in experiencing music that tests the listener, not to mention hearing music whose scores’ ink are still wet. If anyone ever uses ink these days, that is. The London Sinfonietta has been a vibrant and vital part of the New Music scene in London since its inception, and certainly many of the premieres I heard in my student days in the eighties still resonate vividly in my memory. In those days it was the likes of Diego Masson, David Atherton and even a young Esa-Pekka Salonen (who still seems to look young, dammit) that dominated.

Conductor Marco Angius has been closely associated with Sciarrino’s music for some time now. He gave the world premiere of Studi per l’intonazione del Mare in 2000; since then he has even written a book about Sciarrino. In 2011 he was appointed Artistic Co-ordinator of the Ensemble Accademia Teatro alla Scala – he has conducted Rihm’s Jakob Lenz there. It was clear the Sinfonietta enjoyed working with him: performances were characterised by their sheer concentration.

Daniela Terranova has studied with Ivan Fedele, Beat Furrer and attended a masterclass with Toshio Hosokawa in Santiago del Compostela. Her Notturno in Forma di Rosa featured an ensemble that included violin played with a Baroque bow. Concerned with lines that contract and expand like the outline of the petals of a rose, she intends to create “a feeling of openness”. The music is not concerned with development in the traditional sense, rather the listener is asked to experience its delicate traceries in a hushed setting (the dynamics are kept very low). There was certainly no doubting the nocturnal basis of the piece. Francesco Filidei, born in Pisa in 1973, studied at Florence and at the Paris Conservatoire; he has actually studied with Sciarrino. His Ballata No. 2 for ensemble includes some non-traditional sounds: the double-bass player has to bow a glass of water, and the pianist has to pick up a piece of rubber piping and twirl it round in circles in an attempt to catch some sound (not always successfully). Lots of visual fun, for sure, which might be seen to detract somehow from Filidei’s clear ear for sonority. Despite the riotous climax, there was a clear lyric impulse underlying this work that rather quirkily ended with bubble wrap being popped.

The evening, though, was centred around Sciarrino, in particular the UK premiere of his 2016 piece, Immagina il desserto (the premiere had occurred at the Venice Biennale). His programme note was long but pretty much as elusive as the musical surface itself. Mezzo Anna Radziejewska sang a sequence of epigraphs, but in a hyper-fragmented way that is typical of this composer. Radziejewska’s stunningly full voice and her perfect diction implied she was the perfect interpreter for these five songs. Lasting only around 15 minutes, Sciarrino’s musical language seems to twist our experience of time; at once it goes past in a minute, while simultaneously we feel we have been experiencing this music forever. The vocal control of Radziejewska was remarkable.

Post-interval, we heard a short, much earlier Sciarrino piece, …da un Divertimento for ten instruments. This is effectively a torso, an Adagio (Romance) and Scherzo originally intended as the third and fourth movements of the divertimento. One each of the strings, oboe, bassoon and horn provide soundscapes that could only come from this composer. The grinding opening diminuendos into the sound of air itself through instruments. The traditional idea of what a Romanze actually is is certainly tested to its limits, and is juxtaposed with the more flickering Scherzo, here charged with energy. There really is something about hearing contemporary music performed at the very highest standard; perhaps it is a level of trust the audience gifts to the players, reflected back in the 100% dedication of the Sinfonietta.

Finally, the piece on the programme that could almost be called a “standard”, at least in the contemporary world: Berio’s Folksongs in its chamber guise. The piece was inspired by what Berio called the “vocal intelligence” of Cathy Berberian, a trait that certainly maps directly on to Anna Radziejewska. The sense of nostalgia to ‘I wonder as I wander’ and ‘Black is the colour of my true love’s hair’ was palpable, her smoky mid-range delicious. The final number was true delight, a real feeling of the players just letting their hair down; yet at the same time stunningly accurate.

This was fabulous, thought-provoking stuff. The post-concert discussion, “chaired” by London Sinfonietta Chief Executive Andrew Burke, with the conductor and the two composers present at the event (Terranova and Filidei) was absolutely fascinating. Everyone will have the segment that most drew their attention; for myself, perhaps, it was Angius talking on the different qualities of silence in the music of Sciarrino, Cage and Nono.

No doubt, then, that contemporary music is alive and wonderfully well.

Colin Clarke

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