Germany Musikfest Berlin  – Schubert and Lachenmann: Yuko Kakuta (soprano), Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano). Kammermusiksaal, Philharmonie, Berlin, 12.9.2019. (MB)
Schubert – Piano Sonata No.18 in G major, D 894
Lachenmann – GOT LOST (2007-8)
A fascinating pairing of Schubert and Lachenmann from Pierre-Laurent Aimard and, in the latter, Yuko Kakuta. In some ways, roles, at least roles as might popularly be assumed, were reversed. What we heard was plain-spoken, even austere, day I say modernist, Schubert, followed by vividly dramatic, accessible, perhaps even Romantic Lachenmann. Such labels doubtless beg more questions than they answer, but then so, quite properly, do such performances. At any rate, Aimard provoked us in the best way: not out of some desire to épater les bourgeois, but to make us listen, to think, and most likely to reconsider our lazy assumptions, bourgeois or otherwise.
Basic pulse and metre were established right from the start of the G major Piano Sonata, D 894. You might think that obvious, yet it is far from a given. Aimard’s account of the first movement flowed, and was flexible, but never lost sight (or hearing) of that fundamental pulse. Thematic groups remained distinct but also emerged from one another, in a performance anything but maudlin, imbued with a fine sense of fresh discovery, indispensable in such (over-)familiar repertoire. Aimard captured both the deception and the simplicity in its deceptive simplicity, not least in a vigorous, determined development section. The Andante was similarly direct and without predetermined framework, performance seemingly arising from the notes rather than vice versa. Every note likewise told in the minuet, sometimes as gruffly as in Beethoven, though never sounding remotely like him. There were no easy answers – or even easy questions. A slower tempo for the trio came across less as relaxation than as strange intensification, whose mysteries seemed to foreshadow the Chopin of the mazurkas. The finale, likewise, was rendered strange in a way that compelled one to listen. Modulations, almost always key to Schubert’s music, surprised, even shocked. Modernist Schubert? I suppose so, but ultimately this seemed less a matter of such a broad aesthetic, still less such an aesthetic applied, than of Aimard’s Schubert.
Lachenmann’s GOT LOST takes its name from one of its three verbal sources, a note in the lift of a Grunewald apartment block used by Fellows of the Wissenschaftkolleg zu Berlin: ‘Today my laundry basket got lost. It was last since standing in front of the dryer. Since it is pretty difficult to carry the laundry without it I’d be most happy to get it back.’ The other two texts employed are an extract from Nietzsche’s Gay Science, its Wanderer message full of association for anyone vaguely acquainted with German Romanticism, and a poem by Fernando Pesso (under the pseudonym, Álvaro de Campos),’ ‘Todas as cartas de amor são ridículas’ (‘All love-letters are ridiculous’). According to the composer, these are ‘three only seemingly incompatible texts’. ‘Stripped of their pathos-laden, poetic and profane diction,’ they are despatched by:
… the same sound-source – a soprano voice singing ‘in whatever way’ – into a intervallically ever-changing field of sound, reverberation and movement. Calling out, playfully, “warbling” and lamenting arioso: they interrupt and pervade one another, thus marking out a space that ultimately remains foreign to them, and in which – as in all my compositions – music reflects upon itself with ‘expression’-less joviality, thus showing its awareness of the transcendent, god-less message of ‘ridicolas’ that unifies these three texts.
Un-Romantic, even anti-Romantic, then? Yes and no. The idea of music in itself, shorn of ‘expression’ has all manner of associations, many of them at least heirs to the Romanticism Lachenmann has long deconstructed and perhaps, just perhaps, even reconstructed. A post-Nietzschean revaluation of values, if we like, does not perhaps change those values, whether in work or performance, as much as we might suspect. Transcendence, after all, remains – and what could be more Romantic, even Wagnerian, than that?
For performance will always play its part, even when, sometimes especially when, that outcome is guarded against. So it did here, in superlative performances from Aimard and Kakuta, performances I find it impossible to imagine bettered. (And what would be the point of such imagination?) Every note, every articulation, every connection between notes, articulations, and so much more, to the whole, remains crucial; or, at least, so the illusion holds. Romantic ghosts? Perhaps. But are not those ghosts actually more performances of earlier music, such as Schubert’s? Monteverdi, perhaps the ultimate source, known or unknown, acknowledged or acknowledged, for all ‘modern’ music in the Western tradition, seemed once again reborn in this scena for the twenty-first century (2007-8). Music theatre? Again, perhaps, but like so many such concepts, it seemed more an historical reference than anything else. Perhaps Joycean music would be more to the point, at least for me, even the Mahlerian conception of the symphony as a world. In reality, we shall act differently, although surely all with the joviality of which Lachenmann spoke. Kakuta sang into the piano, only for the piano’s resonances to sing back to her, to us; Aimard responded in all manner of ways, instrumental and extra-instrumental. The term ‘extended techniques’, whether for voice or piano, seemed so beside the point as to suggest that, at long last, it should be dropped. These are surely ‘just’ techniques, ‘just’ music. The final climax, when it came, might even have seemed conventional, yet no less extraordinary for that. Whatever we may wish to label, to say, to think, this was a performance no one there would likely ever forget. Outstanding.