An Unforgettable End to the Vienna Konzerthaus’s Boulez Festival

AustriaAustria Boulez: Klangforum Wie / Baldur Brönnimann (conductor). Grosser Saal, Konzerthaus, Vienna, 19.6.2017. (MB)

Boulez –  explosante-fixe… (1971-1993); Répons (1981-85)

Eva Furrer, Vera Fischer, Thomas Frey (flutes)
Lukas Schiske (xylophone, glockenspiel)
Alex Lipowski (vibraphone)
Virginie Tarrête (harp)
Jan Rokyta (cimbalom)
Joonas Ahonen, Florian Müller (pianos)
Peter Böhm, Florian Bogner, Gilbert Nouno (electronics)

And so with this unforgettable concert – could there ever be a forgettable concert of this music? – the Vienna Konzerthaus’s Boulez festival came to a close. …explosante-fixe… and Répons? To quote a little-remembered, sometime Leader of the Labour Party, one Ed Miliband: ‘Hell, yes!’

Enough of such unwelcome recollections. Eva Furrer, whom I had most recently admired playing the contrabass flute in Beat Furrer’s FAMA last year, this time took the central, or perhaps better most central, midi-flute part, ably partnered by Vera Fischer and Thomas Frey, and indeed by Klangforum Wien and Baldur Brönnimann. There is no room for egotism in music such as this; the ensemble is all. For me – it depends, to a certain extent where one sits – the work began with expectant breathing behind me. Éclat upon éclat followed from the dazzling ensemble. Sounds emerged from all around and, so it seemed, even from within my head. It was a little, even before the event, as if Répons were being born here; in a sense, it was. Our three guides through the labyrinth – or are they the three most beguiling flute-minotaurs, sirens even? – offered up a garden of heavenly delights. (I might as well carry on piling up the metaphors now.) There was so much bubbling beneath and indeed on the surface, that I sometimes felt what I was hearing was Boulez’s response to La Mer; perhaps there are worse ways to think of this music. Or Jeux, perhaps, even a serial Symphonie fantastique at trippy times; a sort of ‘precise wooziness’, verging upon the hallucinatory, suggested itself. The hall’s adjustment of lighting added to the atmospheric difference of purely electronic passages, almost as if the visual equivalent of Messiaen’s grand orgue. An aura of mystery followed, suitably enough. Something had changed, had been transformed; of that we could be sure. The close could be heard as the final trace of fluting Catherine wheels.

Any performance of Répons is, by its very nature, an ‘occasion’, at least as much as Stockhausen’s Gruppen, probably more so. I had only heard the one before: strictly two, since, at the 2015 Salzburg Festival, it was given twice, the audience re-seated so as to hear a different work the second time around. One of Boulez’s concerns, not only in this work, but more generally, was to reinstate – and how triumphantly! – performance. That was most certainly done here, the dizzying virtuosity of all concerned transcendent in a very Lisztian sense. Material, familiar from certain other works, proliferated, I might even say developed, quite differently – whether from those works or from other auditions of this. One needed to listen, of course, for that is performance of a sort too. The magic was such that even Stockhausen would surely have been impressed. Sounds rocketed; musical lines were constructed before our eyes and ears: vertically, horizontally, diagonally. Gallic pianism reinvented itself – as much on the vibraphone and harp as on the pianos themselves. Above all, this music, and music more generally, lived. Perhaps I have Schoenberg too much on my mind at the moment, but I even fancied I heard a ghost or two of one of his waltzes; at any rate, what we heard would never have happened in quite the way it did without him, or Webern, or Debussy, or many others. Nor, of course, would we think quite the way we do about those composers had it not been for Boulez. As the hall, which worked wondrously as an ‘instrument’, fell into darkness, and the music, Jakobsleiter-like, made its way into the ether, one knew that this drama was far from over.

Mark Berry

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