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Showing posts with label CUMS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label CUMS. Show all posts

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Joy Lisney's 'Thread of the Infinite'

Thomas Gould directed Joy Lisney’s ‘Thread of the Infinite’

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

13 May

An account of the world-premiere performance of Joy Lisney’s ‘Thread of the Infinite’, by Cambridge University Chamber Orchestra and directed by Thomas Gould, at West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge, on Saturday 13 May at 7.30 p.m.

Thomas Gould, associate leader of Britten Sinfonia (at #UCFF, both much blogged about)

An intriguingly plaintive, repeated motif on solo oboe¹ is the genesis of this attractive and engaging short work (running, Joy Lisney said in advance last night, to around ten minutes²) : in attempting to write review-notes for new music, one knows that a piece is attractive and engaging, because one then wishes that one had a better memory for musical detail, and could instead dispense with almost all notes and listen whole-heartedly, but just write something straight off afterwards (which must be a blessing to those who can do it).

And God made him die during the course of a hundred years and then He revived him and said :

‘How long have you been here ?’

‘A day, or part of a day,’ he replied.
The Koran, II 261

[Quoted, by Jorge Luis Borges, in the guise of a motto to head his story The Secret Miracle' ('El milagro secreto’ : the link is to a PDF version in English). All of Borges' stories are short stories, some very much so]

With timpani, and employing tremolo, a small group of strings joins in, before we revert to an iteration of this opening from principal oboe, then strings. From here, and in tonal uncertainty, further material begins to emerge, now with pairs of clarinets, bassoons, flutes and both oboists, to which are added two horns and two trumpets (con sordini). At this point, the full realm of the percussionist is evoked, with snare-drum plus marimba (sans vibrating mechanism, so as more to resemble a xylophone³ ?), and then within the musically and emotionally resonant lower range of the marimba (now, with resonator engaged).

As the development section continues, accented pulses establish themselves between and within the full orchestra, but the contrasts between the sizes of forces being brought into being continue in tandem, and so we drop down to a few woodwind instruments, just before - with a different tone to it - the oboe motif recurs, and Joy uses the effect of flutter-notes from the flautists. Again, the sound of the ensemble swells into a tutti, with a very vigorous texture to it.

Sounding as if his role had moved into that of playing an obbligato instrument⁴, Thomas Gould – who had, when not needing them to play, been directing with his hand (or bow) – passed the directorship to a fellow violinist for the moment. Joy brought viola and marimba (qua xylophone ?) into prominence, with chimes (or struck crotales ?) straight afterwards. Even if this violinistic feature were no conscious nod to Tippett (and to his own to composers of other climes), we could enjoy the gracious, sweet tones of Gould, as this section reached another crescendo.

With, if cinematic images are evoked for a brief while, ones that are of a rainy and darkish scene, we entered what sounded like a moody coda, in which Joy sets woodwind (principally clarinet and flute) against soft pizzicato. Next, a horn is added, and both trumpets, in the sort of accretive layering that we have encountered earlier. Yet the work closed quietly - with Gould on violin, and with principal oboe.

To the musicianship in hearing Joy play (at Kings Place (@KingsPlace), as a duo with her pianist father, James Lisney - as above on 28 February 2017, on a leg of their Cello Song Tour, at West Road (@West RoadCH)), and also direct in her own right [from the cello] (with Seraphin Chamber Orchestra (@SeraphinCO) - please see below), could now be added the musicality of an adept composer, writing a work that transcends its physical length and scale, and making, once more, that connection with cinema : where a strong short film can say far more, in such a timescale, than in the scope of some very average feature-length ones.

At the time of posting, but now reviewed here, what was another forthcoming⁵ date for your diary... :

End-notes :

¹ It resembled and reminded of something in nature, or in music – perhaps it was not birdsong notation à la Messiaen, but did it, say, remind of the theme for one of the characters in Peter and The Wolf (Prokofiev’s Opus 67) ? (It may actually have been, as this review suggests, on a lower-sounding instrument, the cor anglais...)

On checking, there proves to be a tenuous reason to mention Franz Kafka (whose surname is Czech for 'crow'), because the title of the work derives from Victor Hugo in Les Misérables, which is seemingly (because finding a verifiable citation for quotations can be arduous) :

À la jambe de chaque oiseau qui vole est attaché le fil de l'infini

² As with the best of film, where screen-time – if one but desists from looking at how many minutes have elapsed / are to run – shows how illusory our notion can be of duration, and of over what period what we have seen happen took place.

³ During the performance, one could not quite see the instruments being played, at all times, because the percussion was behind the trumpeters and the rostrum on which, behind a group of string-players, they were standing.

⁴ Though Joy, speaking momentarily afterwards, said that this had not been a nod to Sir Michael Tippett, and his Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli (which was the other item in the first half), because she did not know the programme at the time.

⁵ If, without thinking about it, you now say 'upcoming', when you used to say 'forthcoming', you might wonder whether that is such a good thing... ?

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Meditations on Matthew

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

9 March

Tim Brown, whose conducting I always find infectious to watch, brought together the forces of Cambridge University Bach Ensemble and Cambridge University Chamber Choir in to-night’s performance of the perennial Lententime Bach work, which never fails to find an audience.

To-night’s, if it – as I did – needed to read what Tim had written about the piece at the front of the programme to appreciate this truth, would have seen what he said about what determines how it unfolds to be perfectly correct: much about what The Matthew Passion (BWV 244) ends up being in performance is a result of the way in which the recitative of The Evangelist is delivered.

As I noticed for the first time in this performance (though I have heard two or three others before), three times he introduces Jesus saying, with remarkable economy and concision, Du sagest's*:

(1) The first is an answer to Judas, asking whether he is the one to betray him, Bin ich's, Rabbi?.

(2) The second is when Jesus is already before the High Priest, who seeks to compel Jesus to say whether he is The Christ with the words Ich beschwöre dich bei dem lebendigen Gott, dass du uns sagest, ob du seiest Christus, der Sohn Gottes.

(3) The final one is a little further on, when, before Pilate now, he is asked Bist du der Juden König?.

Of course, the threefold repetition chimes with Peter's three denials. Just as much as Judas, Peter betrays Jesus, first by saying Ich weiss nicht, was du sagest, and then, twice, Ich kenne des Menschen nicht. And we are led straight to what is almost certainly the aria in the piece capable of most beauty, Erbarme dich, mein Gott**, which made such an impression on me when Tarkovksy used it in The Sacrifice (1986), his final film.

As to the other two denials, one is by the High Priest, who tears his clothes and accuses Jesus of blasphemy for what he says about how the Son of Man will be seen seated at the right hand of glory and coming on the clouds of Heaven; the other is by the head of the secular authorities, who seems to see through the motives of those who seek for Jesus to be crucified, but ultimately seems powerless to resist the crowd that has been worked up to bay for his blood***.

Enough on the performance for now, save to say that Stefan Kennedy (as The Evangelist) and Nicholas Mogg (as Christus) both showed a feel for delivering recitative where some of the members of the choir, who had solo spots but also a passage of recitative immediately before, appeared vocaly less comfortable, and almost as though it were a chore to be got out of the way before the aria: as becomes quite evident when seeing the work, Jesus does say remarkably little in the quite lengthy time taken before the High Priest and then Pilate, and not because he has nothing to say, but Nicholas Mogg concentrated extremely well to give a cohesive Jesus.

In the case of Stefan Kennedy's recitative, I only felt very occasionally that it was a little rushed (and that only towards the end of the piece), but that it was otherwise carefully and thoughtfully paced to best effect****: I was certainly won over by how he placed emphasis as the interpretation developed, and, with a solid but often silent Jesus, there was an interesting dynamic between them.

All in all, not least with regard to the quality of the instrumental playing from the Bach Ensemble (with a highly solid continuo line from Dan Smith on organ and Kate Aldridge on violone), a very fine Matthew Passion!


* The quotations are all taken from the text as it is given in the insert to the first version, on LP, that I owned of this work, as just an English translation was printed in the programme - I largely followed the German in that insert, but referred to the programme.

** Though this is not the only time that this verb is used, because it is in a passage of recitative that recapitulates that Jesus has been given over by Pilate to be scourged, ready for crucifixion. In the meantime, Judas has repented of his actions in accepting money to betray Jesus to the religious authorities, and there is a telling bass aria after he has thrown the money back at them and gone away and hanged himself:

Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder!
Seht, das Geld, den Mörderlohn,
Wirft euch der verlorne Sohn
Zu den Füssen nieder.

*** I was reminded a little how the Tribunes in Coriolanus (most recently seen as a film directed by Ralph Fiennes, who plays the title role) also stir the crowd.

**** With a few vowel-sounds, there seemed some variance from the text that I was following, but the score being used may have adopted a different editorial policy with regard to rendering past tenses in eighteenth-century German.