PHACE Present a Multi-Faceted Tribute to Pierre Boulez

AustriaAustria Boulez, Fedele, Winkler, Baticci, Karastoyanova-Hermentin, Oehring, Schiphorst, Reiter, and Francesconi: Isabel Pfefferkorn (contralto), PHACE / Simeon Pironkoff (conductor). Berio-Saal, Konzerthaus, Vienna, 13.6.2017. (MB)

Boulez Le Marteau sans maître

Interspersed with miniatures in homage to Pierre Boulez, all commissioned by PHACE and the Vienna Konzerthaus, all receiving their world premieres:

Ivan Fedele – Drive
Gerhard E. Winkler Anamorph VII (Alte Meister): ‘Boulez-Samba’
Alessandro Baticci L’Artisanat furieux
Alexandra Karastoyanova-Hermentin Letrei
Helmut Oehring MARTEAU, miniature for contralto and instrumental ensemble
Iris ter Schiphorst – Make him talk!
Eva Reiter – Masque de fer
Luca Francesconi ­– Sans

PHACE – Sylvie Lacroix (flute), Reinhold Brunner (clarinet), Mathilde Hoursiangou (piano), Berndt Thurner (vibraphone, percussion), Alex Lipowski (xylorimba, percussion), Harry Demmer (percussion), Michael Öttl (guitar), Felix Pöchhacker (electric guitar), Ivana Pristašová, Rafał Zalech (violas), Alexandra Dienz (double bass) and Alfred Reiter (sound direction)

This was perhaps the most ambitious instalment yet – of those I have heard, of course – in the Vienna Konzerthaus’s tribute to Pierre Boulez: a performance of Le Marteau sans maître, still, perhaps, his most instantly recognisable, celebrated work, interspersed with eight newly commissioned miniatures from eight different composers. The new music ensemble, PHACE, conducted by Simeon Pironokoff, joined by contralto, Isabel Pfefferkorn, did an extraordinary job here, jointly commissioning the new pieces too, with the Konzerthaus. Wisely the viola parts were split: Ivana Pristašová playing the ferociously difficult, verging-on-impossible part from Le Marteau, Rafał Zalech the others.

Perhaps it was partly the studio-like environment of the Konzerthaus’s Berio-Saal – underground like IRCAM, yet not very much like it – but there seemed, at least in the beginning, to be something of the old Boulez ferocity, even semi-pointillism, to the performance. It was certainly – a favourite word of Boulez himself – a less Romantic performance in character than he would have tended to give towards the end of his life. Ivan Fedele’s Drive came first of the new works, its three short sections (I have seen no programme notes, let alone scores, so my solecisms will likely be many!) suggesting to me a branching out, even a proliferation, from one another, the two instruments, vibraphone and piano, shadowing, enveloping, one another, then again accomplishing something quite different. Exploration of the relationship between the two seemed to be the thing. The first ‘commentaire’ on ‘Bourreaux de solitude’, itself of course still to be heard, offered a keen sense of a perhaps surprisingly soft-spoken mechanism getting into gear. Gerhard E. Winkler’s Boulez-Samba (!), perhaps a nod to the composer’s 1950 visit to Brazil, seemed to take off initially from that music, before going its own way, layers overlapping in a colouristic swirl that did not quite, for me, evade questions of easy colonialism, as Le Marteau does. Perhaps, though, I was missing the point; there was a huge amount to take in throughout the evening.

Alto flute, followed by that unforgettable opening vocal melismata – what richness of voice from Pfefferkorn! – in ‘L’Artisanat furieux’ came like a breath of fresh air, that vocal air increasingly warm, yet never humid. Alessandro Baticci’s arresting combination of electric guitar, floor tom, and double bass, made me keen to hear more from a composer entirely new to me. It was not just the combination, but the variety of sonorities, far from all expected, he drew from them. Following the second ‘commentaire’, Alexandra Karastoyanova-Hermentin’s piece brought viola fury of a very different nature from Boulez’s, yet equally impressive. As the ice and fire of Boulez’s inspiration continued to penetrate as only they can, return to his music often offering a sense of ‘back to the real business’, I found some of the other contributions a little hit-or-miss. Perhaps, though, that was down to me. It was nice to hear Boulez’s own voice sampled in Iris ter Schiphorst’s Make him talk! and there was, I think, a real sense of that voice becoming part of the ensemble. Hermut Oehring’s MARTEAU, though, took a while to pass through its hand movement-silence-shouting phases, and Eva Reiter’s Masque de fer, intriguing though some aspects may have been, seemed rather music-theatre gestural in this particular company. It was a relief to near conclusion with Luca Francesconi’s exquisitely finished Sans: winding down, or opening out? Both, probably, those sentiments intensified in the final movement of Le Marteau. Boulez’s music, quite rightly, was still the thing.

Mark Berry

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