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Showing posts with label Miranda Dale. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Miranda Dale. Show all posts

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

'Energetic and energizing' : At Lunch Two with Britten Sinfonia

This is a review of Britten Sinfonia's recital At Lunch Two on 14 February 2017

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


14 February

This is a review of Britten Sinfonia with At Lunch Two at West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge, at 1.00 p.m. on Tuesday 14 February 2017


Programme :

1. Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) ~ Three Pieces for String Quartet (1914¹) [4 players]

2. Mark-Anthony Turnage (1960-) ~ Prayer for a great man (2010) [2 players]

3. Oliver Knussen (1952-) ~ Cantata for oboe and string trio (1977) [4 players]

4. Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) ~ Introduction and Allegro (1905) [7 players]

5. Turnage ~ Col (2016) [8 players]

6. Stravinsky ~ Concertino for String Quartet (1920) [4 players]



Stravinsky I ~ Three Pieces for String Quartet (1914¹)

1. Danse

2. Eccentrique

3. Cantique


(1) Vibrant tone-colour from Jacqueline Shave (1st violin) and vigorous pizzicato on cello (Caroline Dearnley) characterized the first impression of the work, with Miranda Dale (2nd violin) making lively interjections in the brief Danse. Even so, we hear that Stravinsky’s writing is of a contrasting nature, and – in the overall somewhat atrophied sounds of the opening bars of Eccentrique – is juxtaposing inertia and lyricism. Before, that is, the intense flowering of the development section, and a return to this quirky form of spikiness, and the opening material’s serving partly as punctuation, partly as an ending.

Last, sensitively rendered by the violinists and more mournful, Cantique resembles a less-uninformed version of Beethoven as processed in Strauss’ Metamorphosen : quicker, but a mutated theme. Again, the writing relies on a contrast between passages and their affective colouring, but evoking a memory that is rooted, not in nostalgia, but in grief.



Turnage I ~ Prayer for a great man (2010)

(2) Prayer is uplifted, and positive, if stoic – it is, as with the preceding work, a fascinating blend of sounds, those of cello and of the horn – Martin Owen – with all its connotations of the martial, the inward, and the rustic. As the short piece progressed, we were aware how Caroline Dearnley’s freely-flowing cello-line worked with the latter : in the string legato, melding tones, although there was a deliberate, gentle mismatch with the horn’s timbre. A final, muted, section perhaps seemed to speak of adieu, or farewell.



Knussen ~ Cantata for oboe and string trio (1977)

Before Oliver Knussen’s instrumental (3) Cantata, the statesman-like tone and appearance of Nicholas Daniel (later, in a post-concert workshop (with / for Jago Thornton’s prize-winning composition), maybe less so ?), who said that we could expect to hear some of the instruments in tempo, others playing ‘out of time’ : as he put it, Strict, but flexible – parenting, I suppose ?

Nicholas Daniel also told us that he favoured – over Knussen’s own account of the work – when Knussen had shared, with Sinfonia players, that it is ‘like a series of diary-entries’, but ones that are technically connected. Compared with other works, rehearsing this one had apparently been more intense, but also more rewarding, and, although Daniel says that he is usually hesitant to say the word ‘masterpiece’, he promised (not wrongly) that Cantata was one - and jewel like


Characterizing – or trying, and failing, to characterize – the mood or feel of such diary-entries, when Knussen is deliberately being holistic with them, would not let his work be the centre-piece that it was of this superbly wrought and planned Sinfonia recital. Here, the incalculably strong overall effect of a moving entity, comprising people and a feeling of place, of being placed into the timeless eternity of Time :

As one would know from typically thoughtful Sinfonia programming, pairing how the Stravinsky ends with Turnage’s reaction to the passing of his father-in-law naturally fits with Knussen’s conception of Cantata - with all the changeability that we are aware of with, say, Bach’s portraits of the facets of the seeking of a soul in penitence [counter-tenor Robin Blaze with BWV 170, Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust], or Handel’s Un’alma inamorata, HWV 173 [Mhairi Lawson, with La Serenissima (LaSerenissimaUK)].

Or, of course, it could be Handel’s much more famous and beautiful da capo aria Lascia ch’io pianga [Almira / Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno / Rinaldo], or Bach’s even more famous Erbarme dich, so beautiful where it comes in St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) : at such times, what is Time ?



Ravel ~ Introduction and Allegro(1905)

Maurice Ravel, though, has a radiance that is rarely outshone, and so we aptly heard next, in the familiar (4) Introduction and Allegro, his feeling for poesie and fantasie in the intensity of an imagined world : in the first harp solo, it became very clear that Ravel, in being commissioned to write this work to show off a new make of harp (pace Donald Macleod on Radio 3, that self-same day, with the evening repeat of Composer of the Week [#COTW]), is scoring in the spirit of writing for piano.

Further on, and starting with the delicacy of the cello (Caroline Dearnley), the other players (Miranda Dale and Clare Finnimore) joined her in pizzicato to accompany Jacqueline Shave's bowed violin, before another gorgeous, rapt harp solo from Lucy Wakeford. With the ensemble embodying faerie and fruitfulness, we came to the flowering and fecundity of the Allegro section – with the very lovely phrasing of Lucy Wakeford, who was given a well-earnt accolade by her fellow Sinfonia performers.



Turnage II (1960-) ~ Col (2016)

A tradition in music of The British Isles that goes back well before Elgar’s variations presents portraits in music (of a sort, Façade (1918-1923) is also one). Unfortunately, this is what Mark-Anthony Turnage does in (5) Col, in a piece that starts in open terms, but becomes first ruminative, and then – with or at the return of that initial material – becomes downright maudlin.

This is unlike the spirit of Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin (1914-1917), Arvo Pärt in In memoriam Benjamin Britten (1977), or Stravinsky’s Epitaphium (Für das Grabmal des Prinzen Max Egon zu Fürstenberg) (1959), for flute, clarinet and piano, [or Double Canon ‘Raoul Dufy in Memoriam’ (1959)], and, rather, a requiem that is yet a birthday cake, but which serves as neither : though it is imperfect, one may be better hearing Colin Matthews the man, by watching Barrie Gavin’s Colin Matthews at 70 [seventy minutes or so of film about Colin Matthews, as screened at 2016’s Aldeburgh Festival of Arts and Music² (on which, see more, below)]…



Stravinsky II ~ Concertino for String Quartet

NB The programme-notes (by Jo Kirkbride) credit the (6) Concertino as dating to 1952 – having wondered about this, and then checked more authoritatively than on the Internet³ [Wikipedia®], the Concertino actually dates to 1920⁴, and its arrangement for small ensemble to 1952…

Given that L’histoire du soldat (The Soldier’s Tale) (1919) was from the year before 1920, it seems to endorse the comment above that one can hear hints of that work here. The Britten Sinfonia String Quartet plays the Concertino with aplomb : they happen, all, to be women, but the important point is that they are excellent musicians and communicators, and it is by their quality, not their gender, that one would commend their musicianship⁵.



In this work, as brought out here, the motivic elements underlie, but do not belie, its meditative qualities – the recapitulation that we heard was brimful of feeling, and tacitly contradicts a conception of Stravinsky as cool and unemotional. Just as did, one reflects, this string quartet with the Stravinsky piece(s) with which it / they opened a tribute to Louis #Andriessen at Milton Court last year (at The Barbican).


End-notes :

¹ Please see the note at the beginning of the section (below) for the second Stravinsky work for string quartet (and its dependent end-note⁴).

² One way in which the Festival is on a human scale is that, during the interval of a concert that had featured Matthews' work last year, one had the informality to address him on the stairs - to shake his hand, and briefly thank him.




Sadly, at some more 'protective' venues - unlike, for example, The National Centre for Early Music (NCEM / @yorkearlymusic) - one may not approach performers, even though they are just a small distance away (though not evident, stewards are there to prevent it) : those on stage have to be at a signing, or otherwise choose to come out into the foyer, for approaching them to be permitted.


³ In Roman Vlad's monograph entitled Stravinsky, pp. 79-81 (Oxford University Press, London (1978)).

⁴ With Three Pieces for String Quartet, it initially seemed that they were written in 1914, revised in 1918, but probably not published until 1922.

Roman Vlad (ibid, p. 50), after saying ‘Although very little known, these pieces are extremely significant as far as Stravinsky’s stylistic development and inner artistic motivation are concerned’, and then devoting several pages to them [in which, by analysing them, Vlad explains their importance to Stravinsky's and other composers' works], goes on to tell us (p. 54) :

Stravinsky himself was always greatly attached to [the Three Pieces], so much so that in 1917 he transcribed them for orchestra under the titles of ‘Danse’: ‘Excentrique’ : ‘Cantique’ [my emphasis] […].

⁵ On which point, initiatives such as Holly Tarquini's F-Rating (F-Rated (@F__Rating)) at Bath Film Festival (@BathFilm), or Cambridge's Reel Women (@ReelWomenUK), might take pause ? [Unless, of course, one claims that inclusion in a programme at the latter, or the former's Festival, is an absolute guarantee, per se, of outstanding quality.]




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

Thursday, 28 April 2016

A tour of Western musical styles ? : Britten Sinfonia with Benjamin Grosvenor Directs (uncorrected proof)

This is a review of Benjamin Grosvenor Directs Britten Sinfonia in Cambridge

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


28 April


This is a review of the first half (minus the encore)¹ of Benjamin Grosvenor Directs, with Britten Sinfonia led by Jacqueline Shave, at West Road Concert Hall in Cambridge on Wednesday 27 April 2016 at 7.30 p.m.


Programme :

1. Béla Bartók (1881–1945) ~ Second movement from String Quartet No. 2

2. Elena Langer (1974-) ~ Story of an Impossible Love

3. Mozart (1756-1791) ~ Piano Concerto No. 27



1. Bartók ~ Allegro molto capriccioso from String Quartet No. 2 (1917)

The concert began with what one expects from these string-principals of Britten Sinfonia² (@BrittenSinfonia), music-making of a high and expressive order. Here, serving as an energizing prelude to what was to ensue in the works of Elena Langer (and then Mozart), it was much infused, at the outset, with very gypsy-style slurring and intonation.

Yet these mere words do not do justice to trying to describe the fresh tone-colours and nuances of this approach to Bartók, and, although he does bring that material / sound back, they were just part of the quartet’s accent-perfect playing. For – amongst other elements that constitute this compact movement’s make-up – we were also to hear :

* Some very spirited cello-lines from Caroline Dearnley

* Almost Bergian moments of pure hush

* What can only be characterized as pops and squeaks

* Initiated by Dearnley, the eerie hollowness in which the movement concludes, with its spidery or spiky notes


A very idiomatic, and natural, performance of this Bartók movement !



2. Langer ~ Story of an Impossible Love (2016)

This new commission was receiving only its second public performance (with Norwich and London to come – at, respectively, St Andrew’s Hall on Friday 29 April, and Milton Court on Sunday 1 May). Very fleetingly, Elena Langer seemed to open in the same way as an established piece of repertoire, but so much so that one could not place the reference before it had gone :





In what sometimes came to resemble a Concerto Grosso in variation form, we initially experienced -alongside the prime role of the lead violin (Jacqueline Shave) - a strong element of woodwind, cutting through the strings : oboe, flute, bassoon, all very beautifully played.

Rather than attempting to find words to say everything about how the composition continued to make itself known through this performance, it seemed wiser to concentrate on considering its overall sweep in a few observations :

* Some pastiche of Stravinskyesque neoclassicism (not least in the use of the piccolo (played by flautist Ileana Ruhemann) ?)

* Hints of Debussy (and his orchestral style or tone)

* Sparingly effective use of dissonance, or of disruptive sound


One was nearing what one sensed was the end of the work when Jacqueline Shave provided a drone to mix with the woodwind players, especially with the pair of oboes, played by Melinda Maxwell and Emma Feilding, interwoven (or interlocked ?).

Then, in what appeared to be a coda, Shave’s playing was foregrounded in a way that was very reminiscent of Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, with flute and oboe notes audible, before we died away with just her to close.


Alongside these pastoral aspects to the piece, one finds oneself returning to Story of an Impossible Love, the generic title of the work, and a possible connection to what Klaus Beekman’s monograph on Marcel Duchamp says about the work usually known as The Large Glass [the Bride stripped bare by her Bachelors, Even (1915–1923) ] : Let me remind you at this point that the Large Glass relates the story of an impossible love affair between a half-willing virgin and an anxious bachelor.

Be that as it may, Elena Langer was warmly welcomed to the stage at West Road, where she showed her appreciation to the ensemble, and to particular players, not least Jacqueline Shave.



3. Mozart (1756-1791) ~ Piano Concerto No. 27 in B Flat Major, K. 595

1. Allegro

2. Larghetto

3. Allegro


For various reasons, one had been a little hesitant what to expect from Benjamin Grosvenor with Mozart³, but the situations in which ‘home-grown’ artists receive acclaim do differ, as do solo piano recitals on Radio 3 (@BBCRadio3) - and the interpretative choices (or those of programme⁴) that are part of them – from directing a concerto from the keyboard…



If everyone came to a concert for a replica of exactly what he or she already knew about a composer’s world, the result might please them all without really challenging them : with this Piano Concerto, even if all who came on the night specifically wanted to hear Britten Sinfonia, it would have been difficult for them not to come with the preconceptions that arise from familiarity. Before, that is, the keyboard entry in the opening (1) Allegro, and the cadence of a pattern of notes in the strings that changed them, probably having us wonder at its syncopated nature :

Except that, when Grosvenor (@grosvenorpiano) had started playing, we now heard the mimicry of that string-gesture in his part, and we heard brought out (with flute and both oboes at the core) a fanfare in the orchestral writing (which are causes for delight that playing one’s usual CD, or a radio broadcast where the score is not imaginatively re-entered, may not give…).

Similarly, as the movement widened out, the element of ‘call and response’ between Ruhemann (on flute) and Grosvenor had a closeness and impromptu feel to it (which was to pervade the whole Concerto), and, before the close, there were further lovely touches from both Sarah Burnett (bassoon) and her.




In the first part of the (2) Larghetto, which Grosvenor had characterized as with a marking of grazioso, we may soon have sensed that this impression of ‘graciousness’ was not wholly a convention of the Classical era, and that, signalled in the restraint that he brought to his part (and despite very conservative orchestral flourishes), we were not far from being taken to sense the emotional centre of this composition.

It was to prove to give the lie to the oft-quoted assertion that Mozart disliked the flute (made in its context of a commission for Flute Concerti that, for all sorts of reasons, failed to interest him in his youthful days, as against what ended being his final Piano Concerto), with the attentiveness of the eye-contact between Ruhemann and Grosvenor now as patent as the artistry of their musical understanding and interaction.




After flurries of what, because of Mozart’s use of grace-notes, sound like impossible note-values, there was more of the mimicry between flute and piano, and then with oboe, too, in the final (3) Allegro.

In a cadenza, Mozart took the piano soloist into a minor key, and started modulating – with, perhaps, a feeling of a tease, here, as to whether the work of the Concerto might effectively be done at this point ? Instead, he led us to a tutti before bringing flute and bassoon back to the fore, and this is where the Tweeted comment Touching the simplicity beyond the ornate ? had been made in the review-notes :

As we heard another highly modulating cadenza, there was a sense that the mood or will behind the piece (although unacknowledged to itself ?) now stood ‘broken’, and that from here onwards a brave face would be put on it. In all of which, the hall was rapt, carried with Grosvenor both in it, and in and through a closing cadenza, to a firm, positive ending, greeted enthusiastically to close the first half. (Except that Grosvenor was persuaded to give a quiet encore, sadly not heard for having already exited.)




End-notes

¹ An immense dislike of Richard Strauss (let alone Strauss ‘re-working’ Beethoven), conveniently coupled with the need to make a mercy dash to The Arts Picturehouse (@CamPicturehouse) and back, means that Metamorphosen had been but audible in part, and only via the speakers in the foyer.

² In Jacqueline Shave (first violin), Miranda Dale (second violin), Clare Finnimore (viola), and Caroline Dearnley (cello), we had the same accomplished players who opened a concert by the Sinfonia during a day devoted to the music of Louis #Andriessen (at Milton Court in The Barbican Centre). (One day, and not just at a Sinfonia At Lunch, it would be lovely to hear them give a full recital… !)

³ Somehow, also, one had failed to engage with the meaning of the title ‘Benjamin Grosvenor Directs’, possibly through not mentally switching from Shave’s having directed the new work as leader, or having even construed that both were directing, but in different compositions.




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

Monday, 22 February 2016

The last Prelude and Fugue, and onwards : Reich, Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Bach celebrate (with) Louis #Andriessen

A review of Britten Sinfonia at Milton Court for / with Louis #Andriessen (Part I)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


18 February

This is the first part of a review of a concert given by Britten Sinfonia under Andrew Gourlay (and with soprano Allison Bell), as part of a BBC Louis Andriessen festival at The Barbican Centre, presented by Tom Service at Milton Court on Saturday 13 February at 3.00 p.m.


Soprano Allison Bell sang in #Andriessen's Dances (1991), the only work in Part II of the concert (which is reviewed here)



Programme (Part I) :

1. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) (arr. Louis Andriessen (1936-)) ~ Prelude No. 24

2. Bach (arr. Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), compl. Andriessen) ~ Prelude and Fugue No. 24

3. Stravinksy ~ Three Pieces for String Quartet (1914)

4. Steve Reich (1936-) ~ Duet (1993)

5. Andriessen (arr. strings, Marijn van Prooijen) ~ Miserere (2007, arr. 2015)



It has to be said that, even with the benefit (and delight) of having heard Peter Donohoe (@PeterHDonohoe) play Book I of Das wohltemperierte Klavier entire (at The Stables at Wavendon, Milton Keynes (@StablesMK)), there are still pairs of Preludes and Fugues that one feels that one is less confident of knowing well¹ :

So it is that, although recordings of Book I abound (and are listened to, e.g. by Glenn Gould, András Schiff, Richard Egarr, Keith Jarrett, etc.), those Preludes and Fugues from around No. 19 onwards never quite get as much attention / exposure as they might, or should – from that personal perspective, therefore, hearing the original work first might have helped one listen out better for what first Andriessen, then Stravinsky, had done to Bach's structures and textures…



Bach (arr. string quartet, Andriessen) ~ Prelude No. 24 in B Minor, BWV 869, Das wohltemperierte Klavier (1722, arr. 2006)

1st violin, Jacqueline Shave ~ 2nd violin, Miranda Dale ~ Viola, Clare Finnimore ~ Cello, Caroline Dearnley

(1) In the part for cello, we apprehended serene, stately movement beneath that of the other strings, and, as we resumed da capo, there were moments of tenderness. When, later, the writing for cello could be perceived to have a step-wise character, the other string-parts had a fluidity to them, and there was an excitement to the music’s build and fall.



Bach (arr. strings, Stravinsky, compl. Andriessen) ~ Prelude and Fugue No. 24 (1722, arr. 1969)

(2) A little as when Britten Sinfonia (@BrittenSinfonia) played Mahler’s arrangement, for chamber string orchestra, of Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14 in D Minor (‘Death and The Maiden’), D. 810, there was not an impression of a much fuller sound, though it appeared capable of being more sweeping in its effect, and gave a ‘larger’ crescendo.

In this version, the sadness came out in the theme that Bach takes for a fugal subject : its intensity was not lessened by a group of instruments playing the long opening trill (the Prelude also contains trills). Its motifs, and the use of falling intervals against contrary motion in the other parts, are suggestive of mourning, and, as the culmination of Bach’s educational enterprise (we know that, in class, he used playing it through as one), it is almost necessarily far removed from the Prelude and Fugue in C Major, BWV 846, with which Book I begins.


As to the impression given, especially of the Fugue, by making the arrangement, one factor has been mentioned above (i.e. the relative unfamiliarity of items towards the end of Book I), but, even compared with Die Kunst der Fuge, BWV 1080 (which is still sometimes thought recondite), does this material seems harder to shape ?



Stravinksy ~ Three Pieces for String Quartet (1914²)

The quartet was made up exactly as for the first piece in the concert :
Jacqueline Shave and Miranda Dale, Clare Finnimore, and Caroline Dearnley

The work had no titles for the movements until 1928, when, alongside his Étude pour pianola, Stravinsky arranged them for orchestra (under the title Quatre études), and they became called, respectively, Danse, Eccentrique, and Cantique : the stridency of the first of these was characterized by vigorous pizzicato notes on cello (Dearnley), and an emphatic part for first violin (Shave), with occasional prominent strokes from second violin (Dale).

Stravinsky opened the second Piece by employing a heavily accented and slurred sound (as of his notion of an eccentric³ ?), but then there was an abrupt change of tone and mood, more extreme, in its rhythmic freedom and energy, than even much of Bartók’s writing for string quartet. When the initial material resumed, there was less jollity about it, and less slurring.

The last Piece was very different again – and one wonders what, in arranging it for large orchestra, Stravinsky might have changed. It began with a few gestures, which conjured to mind, perhaps, a waste space, before developing into what resembled a hymn (or someone praying).

Yet we were to keep reverting to those more stark gestures, as if to a distillation of his Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) from the previous year – and a work of whose influence on him Louis Andriessen was later to tell. Towards the end, the part for lead violin had a fugue-like subject, and, amidst these unlikely fragments, to the credit of the Sinfonia’s string-players (as well as of the composer), there was warmth.

Appreciative of a sensitive performance (and it could be that this felt like the first substantive piece ?), the audience at Milton Court called the players back for applause.



Reich ~ Duet (1993)

When they were leaving the concert-hall after the first part of the concert, one heard a couple of men talking in a way that showed that they did not realize that they had already heard Reich’s Duet.

Even for those who did not have the programme, as maybe they also did not, it was clear enough, not just because Tom Service (@tomservice), for the BBC (@BBCRadio3), had announced, and talked about the pieces in, the running-order of the Louis #Andriessen Immersion Day concert (through to the composer’s own Miserere) : for one thing, it was not as if it did not, in aural terms, resemble Steve Reich's style, but, for another, one imagines that (as with Music for 18 Musicians) he would have specified where on the stage, and so in visual terms, the duo should be – the familiar Sinfonia violinists Jacqueline Shave (leader) and Miranda Dale (principal second violin) had been facing each other across the performance-space.


This was a completely other sound-world from that of Stravinsky (as heard from 1914), with its use of echo / delay, i.e. in the person and playing of the performers, and sustained notes. Reich then added in patterning, in the form of rhythms from the double-bass (Roger Linley) and, for this piece, a third cellist (Rowena Calvert), deploying a flat bow to tap the strings.

For those who had been listening to Ligeti recently (because of Britten Sinfonia’s At Lunch 2), utterly different from the effect that he sought – open sounds, but with dissonance introduced, and the interaction of the parts of Reich’s duetting pair of violins, conspiring to throw the equilibrium off balance. With a light, open texture, the Sinfonia brought the work to a close.



Andriessen (arr. Marijn van Prooijen) ~ Miserere (2007, arr. 2015)

Interviewed by Tom Service, Louis Andriessen told us (wanting, as he said, to avoid giving us a lecture’s worth on it, as he had formally done elsewhere recently) that he had written Miserere for Amsterdam Sinfonietta as a requiem - as at, and for the fact of, their final concert : he had done so at a time when funding for the arts had been in the hands of people whom he described as ‘gangsters’, and this ensemble (and four others ?) had lost its grant.

However, another and happier aspect to its genesis, at the outset, had been a simple figure, written as a birthday present for his sister, and which #Andriessen said that even he could play on piano. The work had originally been written for string quartet, and Andriessen approved of the present arrangement (for string orchestra), which had been made by the Sinfonietta’s bassist, Marijn van Prooijen.


Alas, it had been intended that the review-notes, on which the comments that follow are based, would be amplified, with the piece (fresh) in one’s memory : nothing wrong with the intention as such, as an effort (as with Andriessen’s Dances, in the second half) to detach oneself from the activity of formulating immediate and specific responses, and, rather, making a comment on the overall impression⁴...

At first, the work fell into sections, with contrasts occurring between the sections. Then, as Andriessen had said to Service by way of an introduction to his composition, it becomes more ‘disquieting’, and less ‘conventional’, which we heard as the texture felt itself to be twisted (or tortured ?). When that feeling did subside, there was a quality of expansiveness to the writing, which was a little reminiscent of such moods in Copland (or Sibelius ?) – till, at the end, it had richness, as of Britten.


Part II of the concert is reviewed here



End-notes

¹ As, say, with a concert that includes complete Rachmaninov’s Preludes, Op. 23, nothing can alter the fact that some are celebrated (e.g. No. 5 in G Minor, marked Alla marcia), and so one less easily relates to their neighbours, heard in between.

² Although it was completed in 1914, it appears that it was not published until 1922 (and Stravinsky had revised it in 1918).

³ Assuming that Stravinsky did not conceive of that description after the fact, although Book II of Claude Debussy’s Préludes had first been performed in London in 1913, of which No. 6 (L. 123 / 6) is marked Dans le style et le mouvement d'un Cakewalk, and sub-titled (at the end of the piece) Général Lavine – eccentric.

If, of course, it had happened - whereas, it had then seemed natural, just after hearing Allison Bell (@bellAsoprano) sing, to write up notes for the second half.




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

Friday, 5 February 2016

At Lunch 2 : Arrangements, augmentations, and other versions [Edited Ligeti version]

This is a review of Britten Sinfonia in At Lunch 2 on 19 January 2016

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


20 January


This is a review of At Lunch 2, given by Britten Sinfonia at West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge, on Tuesday 19 January 2016 at 1.00 p.m.


NB This is the edited version, now that the review is complete (whereas the full version can be found here

Britten Sinfonia’s (@BrittenSinfonia’s) programme for At Lunch 2, heard at West Road Concert Hall (@WestRoadCH), mixed the eighteenth century (with three arias from cantatas by Bach, and two re-workings of ones by Alessandro Scarlatti¹) with the twentieth (Ligeti and Pärt) and a new commission (Anna Clyne) – one theme being arrangements and other versions, and with the concert’s own running-order altered and augmented (the original place in the order, if different, in shown in parenthesis) :


1 (4) Aria Seufzer, Tränen, Kummer, Not [with its preceding Sinfonia] ~ Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750)

2 Due arie notturne dal campo ~ Alessandro Scarlatti (1660–1725*) arranged by Salvatore Sciarrino (1947–)

3 Fratres (version for string quartet) ~ Arvo Pärt (1935–)

4 (1) Aria Gott versorget alles Leben ~ Bach

5 Continuum ~ György Ligeti (1923–2006)

6 (7) Aria Tief gebückt und voller Reue ~ Bach

7 (6) This Lunar Beauty ~ Anna Clyne (1980–)



* * * * *


Dating from Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis (BWV 21), a Cantata written by Bach in Weimar (in 1714), the aria that we heard, (1) Seufzer, Tränen, Kummer, Not, was a good opening choice : its accompanying Sinfonia introduced Marios Argiros to us on obbligato oboe, and, as we listened to the aria, the plangent tone of that instrument, beloved of Bach’s later sacred works², was weaving in and out of the texture (as, also, Jacqueline Shave on first violin).

When soprano Julia Doyle made her entry, leaning into the monosyllables of this short text (e.g., in the first two lines, Not, Furcht, and Tod (respectively ‘need’ (or, in that sense, ‘want’), ‘fear’, and ‘death’)), it was with an uncluttered vocal-style. Around all this, giving a stately, steady feel, was Maggie Cole’s harpsichord continuo (and also from Caroline Dearnley on cello, adding weight to the ensemble). As Jo Kirkbride’s programme-notes comment, regarding the last Bach aria in the hour-long sequence, the accompanying instruments ‘suggest a level of torment beneath the calm surface’, so here there were suspensions and mini-cadenzas that punctuated the vocal line.

It is with the initial words, in reference to which the aria borrows its title, that Bach is most concerned, and to which he will have us return : after a moment of attack on Schmerz (‘pain’), the final word in the four-line text, Doyle had to go very high, in re-visiting the opening line, and we ended, as we began, with oboe, and a very definite close.


In Alessandro Scarlatti’s (2) Due arie notturne dal campo (as arranged by Salvatore Sciarrino), possibly pre-dating the Bach work*, Doyle brought out warmer, stronger tone-colours, better suited to Italian than to German.



The setting was built around accents and a falling scale (other works in the programme were to do the latter), and each half-line of Dove sta / la mia pace was repeated for emphasis. We could see, as well as hear, string-effects being passed from viola (Clare Finnimore) to cello (Caroline Dearnley), and, at the last line of the text, we doubled back for a da capo finish.

The second, shorter, aria fitted a lighter tone, and Doyle’s ornamentation was bright and easy, as exemplified by the portamento on the significant word curo in the first line : Non ti curo, o libertà. On cello, Caroline Dearnley’s playing was vibrant, and (on viola) Clare Finnimore could be heard bringing out the resonance.


Lamentably, the review of The Sinfonia at Saffron Hall (@SaffronHall) [with Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho (1960), played with a simultaneous screening] is still not finished (and is unmanageably overlong already). However, it says what was as true of hearing Arvo Pärt’s version of (3) Fratres (1977) for string quartet (from 1985) : watching performers as they play can bring out what one might otherwise overlook [but please see 5, below], or take for granted, by not being conscious of what they are doing - here, the initial two clusters of pizzicato gestures on the cello, which act as a sort of punctuation before each of nine variations, but by no means invariantly (please see below).



Here, those opening gestures led in a disembodied, echoing tone (also described above), and seeing Dearnley’s spread hand for playing harmonics helped one hear the sounds that she was producing. In the programme-notes, which are the link to (2) the Scarlatti / Sciarrino, it is observed that Pärt ‘employs just a simple scale’ [in Italian, the word just means ladder], and he also had Miranda Dale (second violin) much occupied with a continuous note, to act as a drone - virtually the polar opposite of the plucked, and so almost necessarily brief, notes on the cello ?

Not that Pärt intends to hypnotize us, or the string-players, but it proves harder than one might imagine to keep track of the variations, at important points in each of which (by no means to stay out from under the piece’s influence) the performers ensured that they were together by nods. By around the fifth section, which now sounded uncannily like Russian Orthodox chant, the feeling had become far less aetherial, and spoke rather of richness, with the succeeding pizzicato notes on cello being notably different in tone (all of which, somehow, is presumably indicated by notation ?).

The next section added even greater resonance, and it and what followed much more resembled a conventional string-sound, before a variation that was again contemplative – with a slight diminuendo, and a more quiet cello pizzicato. Now, right at the end of the work, the section that followed was softer, and with Pärt achieving a very striking spiritual effect on us, through a little rallentando, which then combined with a diminuendo. In the final pizzicato, one could see Caroline Dearnley’s other hand, holding the string (to shorten the duration of the note, one assumed).


For the second Bach aria (originally to have been the first number in the hour-long concert), (4) Gott versorget alles Leben [from the Cantata Es wartet alles auf dich (BWV 187)], the date of composition (1726) is twelve years later (and in the period of works by Bach already referred to²), but what links it is the beautiful writing for obbligato oboe, which leads into that for voice.

To this setting of a longer passage of verse, accompanied this time just by harpsichord, oboe and cello³, Julia Doyle gave, in her delivery, both clear vocal-tone, and a quality of ‘reaching out’ from - and with - the given text, which made the change in mood at the mid-point, as well as feeling natural, touch us with the sentiment Worries, be gone !, as from the words of another person.


(5) Continuum (1968), a piece for solo dual-manual harpichord by György Ligeti, was next, and some of us had sampled it beforehand via the link Tweeted by Britten Sinfonia (@BrittenSinfonia) :


Much more detail than given here can be found in the full version

As Richard Steinitz tells in his book György Ligeti : Music of the Imagination⁴, Ligeti’s work, one of thirty-eight commissioned by Antoinette Vischer, has become the most famous (others had been written by, for example, Cage, Berio and Henze). Continuum was based on Goffried Michael Koenig's discoveries in the electronic studio in Cologne (where he became Ligeti’s mentor), specifically having found a rate at (and above) which a succession of pitches coalesces as chords, and the pitches are then not distinguishable as a line of melody : Steinitz says that, when a human performer plays the piece, each hand (one on each manual) depresses 16-17 keys per second⁵.

It was soon apparent – when principal harpsichordist Maggie Cole started playing – that concentrating on watching the performance was counter-productive, and that it was better to have one’s attention, not on the instant moment, but rather on absorbing the overall patterns and impressions. After the event, what Steinitz had written was confirmatory, in describing how rhythm operates on three levels, the first of which he characterizes as the incessant ‘clatter’ of the foreground pulses), beyond which the second is the rate at which patterns repeat in the piece, and the third that at which the choice of pitch changes.

Listening with a relaxation of active awareness led to making this comment later : Perhaps the piece exists, in this way, in the cycles between and within the cycles : not quite as with a work by Steve Reich, with whose approach one hears different things and in a different way, but as with other works by Ligeti. Whatever others were hearing, and how they chose to listen and what to watch, one necessarily did not know, but the conclusion of the piece brought Maggie Cole a tremendously appreciative round of applause, which saw her return for a further bow.


After the intensity of the Ligeti, and with the reversal that had been announced of the order of the final two vocal pieces, we next heard the third Bach aria, before the new commission by Anna Clyne (at the mid-point of a world-premiere tour).

(6) Tief gebückt und voller Reue [from the Cantata Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut (BWV 199)], again, as with the first aria in the revised order (Seufzer, Tränen, Kummer, Not), from 1714, seemed reminiscent of the sound-world of The Brandenburg Concertos (BWV 1046–1051), especially - as explained in the next paragraph - No. 3 (in G Major) : as is well known, the six instrumental works are so called, because, in 1721 (although they are thought to have been composed earlier), they were presented to the Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt.


The opening bar of BWV 1048 (as we might call it), which the Sinfonia will be bringing to Saffron Hall in a concert on 15 May, contains just two semi-quavers (as one can see above). They, with the first note of the next bar (a quaver), form a rhythmic and tonal three-note motif (and then, further down the treble stave, it immediately repeats, for the first of numerous times – taking it next up the stave once more, and then down). Although the aria also has, as an obvious feature to the cello part, such a semi-tone ‘dip and back’, it does not have the Concerto’s insistence, albeit a gentle one – as of links in a chain, and making for a higher level of patterning [not wholly dissimilar, dare one say, to the effect of the various levels, as Steinitz calls them (please see above), of rhythmicity that one could discern within Continuum ?].


To how this five-line text had been set, and the honest metaphysics of its words, the Sinfonia instrumentalists assisted Julia Doyle in bringing poise of vocal expression, so that (in the third line) Ich bekenne meine Schuld then balanced against both of the lines that followed (in fact, all of them against each other) : Aber habe doch Geduld / Habe doch Geduld mit mir !. Here, catching Bach’s intention, there was a feint of simply finishing there, with a soft ending, till our hearing a ritornello signalled beginning da capo, and then closing, so that we were plunged back into the words after which it is titled, Tief gebückt und voller Reue.

These three arias, and the company that they kept, worked very well together - as did our soprano and her fellow musicians !


Concluding the hour of music with (7) Anna Clyne’s This Lunar Beauty (2015), setting W. H. Auden’s poem of that name [the text is here], must have been the right thing to do with the programme, and Anna Clyne is not a stranger to having works appearing in Sinfonia concerts. (She can be heard here, in a pre-concert talk with The University of Cambridge’s Kate Kennedy (@DrKKenney), from the final At Lunch 2 concert, at The Wigmore Hall (@wigmore_hall), on the following day.)

The composition felt to have a Scottish ring to it at times, e.g. with the use of a drone on the viola, but also more generally, in its landscape (which perhaps fits with what Clyne says, in that talk, about having studied music at university in Scotland), and it seemed Nymanesque in a vague way (not inconsistently with using a high soprano voice towards the end). We started with oboe, which had been a linking element in these pieces, then Marios Argiros was joined by Clare Finnimore (viola), and next the two violinists, until all were playing.

One can think of works from the Classical period that did likewise, but, in the last hundred years, it has often enough been a feature in neoclassical and modernist works, too : one purpose that it served was to draw attention to the various instruments (for, whilst we cannot be unaware of Bach’s use of obbligato oboe, the role of the cello or harpsichord is much less prominent, and more subtly part of the voice’s accompaniment). Again (hardly for the first time), Clyne makes the soprano seem more part of the ensemble’s range of voices, which we hear from at various times, such as harpsichord figurations with cello and violin.

Except for the Ligeti [for quite other reasons, already very sufficiently given above], This Lunar Beauty was unlike everything else on the programme, and, on a first hearing, a feat to try to take in - not least because of its unfamiliar text, which (despite its simple appearance) is both densely poetical as well as outright difficult to construe in places, even with later quiet reflection (for example, the second half of the second stanza : the text is here). Amidst a lively part for oboe, which at times was up and down scales / parts of them (which is where Michael Nyman somehow first seemed present ?), or elements of pounding from the harpsichord, and definite in their company, the unhurried, tranquil voice (as of The Moon ?) of Julia Doyle, complete with impressively leaping into the higher register before, with some bending of notes, the work came to close.




End-notes

¹ The dates for Scarlatti (2 May 1660 to 22 October 1725) are wrongly given in the programme as 1685–1757 : the latter are those of Aleesandro Scarlatti's son Domenico (now much more famous ?).

² E.g., towards the end of Part I, in the aria for tenor with Chorus Ich will bein meinem Jesu wachen, in the St Matthew Passion (original version 1727) (BWV 244). (Or the Quia respexit from the Magnificat in D Major (from 1733, after the version (from 1723) in E Flat Major) (BWV 243).)

³ In the continuo, one could hear how Bach gave the oboe part shorter note-values than for harpsichord and cello.

⁴ Faber & Faber, London (2003), pp. 164-166.

⁵ The video of which the Sinfonia Tweeted a link (please see above) shows the progress of a piano-roll alongside a recording that runs to around 3:47 (said to be played by Antoinette Vischer herself - please see above). At the end of his chapter, Steinitz talks about an adaptation for barrel-organ, which, in recorded performance [in the Ligeti edition] takes just 3:22 (op. cit., p. 166).

This is faster than Maggie Cole could have played Continuum, and so the duration for the piece when heard with the video is intermediate between her playing and the version for barrel-organ. Describing that version, Steinitz says that the headlong tempo has two effects, both of creating a splendid ‘coalescing’, whilst the shifting patterns of second-level rhythm are actually clearer : might even the recording from a piano-roll, if heard first, have tended to put Cole at a disadvantage by giving these effects, but to a lesser extent ?




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

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

At Lunch 2 : Arrangements, augmentations, and other versions [Full Ligeti version]

This is a review of Britten Sinfonia in At Lunch 2 on 19 January 2016

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


20 January


This is a review of At Lunch 2, given by Britten Sinfonia at West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge, on Tuesday 19 January 2016 at 1.00 p.m.


NB This is the original version, but, now that the review is complete, there is an edited one

Britten Sinfonia’s (@BrittenSinfonia’s) programme for At Lunch 2, heard at West Road Concert Hall (@WestRoadCH), mixed the eighteenth century (with three arias from cantatas by Bach, and two re-workings of ones by Alessandro Scarlatti¹) with the twentieth (Ligeti and Pärt) and a new commission (Anna Clyne) – one theme being arrangements and other versions, and with the concert’s own running-order altered and augmented (the original place in the order, if different, in shown in parenthesis) :


1 (4) Aria Seufzer, Tränen, Kummer, Not [with its preceding Sinfonia] ~ Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750)

2 Due arie notturne dal campo ~ Alessandro Scarlatti (1660–1725*) arranged by Salvatore Sciarrino (1947–)

3 Fratres (version for string quartet) ~ Arvo Pärt (1935–)

4 (1) Aria Gott versorget alles Leben ~ Bach

5 Continuum ~ György Ligeti (1923–2006)

6 (7) Aria Tief gebückt und voller Reue ~ Bach

7 (6) This Lunar Beauty ~ Anna Clyne (1980–)



* * * * *


Dating from Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis (BWV 21), a Cantata written by Bach in Weimar (in 1714), the aria that we heard, (1) Seufzer, Tränen, Kummer, Not, was a good opening choice : its accompanying Sinfonia introduced Marios Argiros to us on obbligato oboe, and, as we listened to the aria, the plangent tone of that instrument, beloved of Bach’s later sacred works², was weaving in and out of the texture (as, also, Jacqueline Shave on first violin).

When soprano Julia Doyle made her entry, leaning into the monosyllables of this short text (e.g., in the first two lines, Not, Furcht, and Tod (respectively ‘need’ (or, in that sense, ‘want’), ‘fear’, and ‘death’)), it was with an uncluttered vocal-style. Around all this, giving a stately, steady feel, was Maggie Cole’s harpsichord continuo (and also from Caroline Dearnley on cello, adding weight to the ensemble). As Jo Kirkbride’s programme-notes comment, regarding the last Bach aria in the hour-long sequence, the accompanying instruments ‘suggest a level of torment beneath the calm surface’, so here there were suspensions and mini-cadenzas that punctuated the vocal line.

It is with the initial words, in reference to which the aria borrows its title, that Bach is most concerned, and to which he will have us return : after a moment of attack on Schmerz (‘pain’), the final word in the four-line text, Doyle had to go very high, in re-visiting the opening line, and we ended, as we began, with oboe, and a very definite close.


In Alessandro Scarlatti’s (2) Due arie notturne dal campo (as arranged by Salvatore Sciarrino), possibly pre-dating the Bach work*, Doyle brought out warmer, stronger tone-colours, better suited to Italian than to German.



The setting was built around accents and a falling scale (other works in the programme were to do the latter), and each half-line of Dove sta / la mia pace was repeated for emphasis. We could see, as well as hear, string-effects being passed from viola (Clare Finnimore) to cello (Caroline Dearnley), and, at the last line of the text, we doubled back for a da capo finish.

The second, shorter, aria fitted a lighter tone, and Doyle’s ornamentation was bright and easy, as exemplified by the portamento on the significant word curo in the first line : Non ti curo, o libertà. On cello, Caroline Dearnley’s playing was vibrant, and (on viola) Clare Finnimore could be heard bringing out the resonance.


Lamentably, the review of The Sinfonia at Saffron Hall (@SaffronHall) [with Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho (1960), played with a simultaneous screening] is still not finished (and is unmanageably overlong already). However, it says what was as true of hearing Arvo Pärt’s version of (3) Fratres (1977) for string quartet (from 1985) : watching performers as they play can bring out what one might otherwise overlook [but please see 5, below], or take for granted, by not being conscious of what they are doing - here, the initial two clusters of pizzicato gestures on the cello, which act as a sort of punctuation before each of nine variations, but by no means invariantly (please see below).



Here, those opening gestures led in a disembodied, echoing tone (also described above), and seeing Dearnley’s spread hand for playing harmonics helped one hear the sounds that she was producing. In the programme-notes, which are the link to (2) the Scarlatti / Sciarrino, it is observed that Pärt ‘employs just a simple scale’ [in Italian, the word just means ladder], and he also had Miranda Dale (second violin) much occupied with a continuous note, to act as a drone - virtually the polar opposite of the plucked, and so almost necessarily brief, notes on the cello ?

Not that Pärt intends to hypnotize us, or the string-players, but it proves harder than one might imagine to keep track of the variations, at important points in each of which (by no means to stay out from under the piece’s influence) the performers ensured that they were together by nods. By around the fifth section, which now sounded uncannily like Russian Orthodox chant, the feeling had become far less aetherial, and spoke rather of richness, with the succeeding pizzicato notes on cello being notably different in tone (all of which, somehow, is presumably indicated by notation ?).

The next section added even greater resonance, and it and what followed much more resembled a conventional string-sound, before a variation that was again contemplative – with a slight diminuendo, and a more quiet cello pizzicato. Now, right at the end of the work, the section that followed was softer, and with Pärt achieving a very striking spiritual effect on us, through a little rallentando, which then combined with a diminuendo. In the final pizzicato, one could see Caroline Dearnley’s other hand, holding the string (to shorten the duration of the note, one assumed).


For the second Bach aria (originally to have been the first number in the hour-long concert), (4) Gott versorget alles Leben [from the Cantata Es wartet alles auf dich (BWV 187)], the date of composition (1726) is twelve years later (and in the period of works by Bach already referred to²), but what links it is the beautiful writing for obbligato oboe, which leads into that for voice.

To this setting of a longer passage of verse, accompanied this time just by harpsichord, oboe and cello³, Julia Doyle gave, in her delivery, both clear vocal-tone, and a quality of ‘reaching out’ from - and with - the given text, which made the change in mood at the mid-point, as well as feeling natural, touch us with the sentiment Worries, be gone !, as from the words of another person.


After the concert, someone remarked to the effect that (5) Continuum (1968) was the first piece by Ligeti that she had liked : not only is that comment, in retrospect, actually ambiguous, but there was not time to enquire what others of his compositions she had heard. Besides which, Ligeti was such a varied composer that it might be anything (with works, say, ranging from his Chamber Concerto (1969–1970) (with its important part for harpsichord) to Aventures (1962) and Nouvelles Aventures (1962–1965)). However, this still seemed surprising to learn, possibly because not everyone would have welcomed this aural experience on, as one maybe wrongly gathered (please see above), the first occasion…

If this level of detail is too much (it continues), there is now an edited version, which shortens the time taken on this piece



It had been noticed, earlier on, that the harpsichord had been set up with a microphone above the strings, and what looked like a feedback monitor, underneath it, and pointing towards the strings upstage of it : one knew too little about Continuum (beyond having reminded oneself of it via the link in the above Tweet) to know what, if anything, this might signify in relation to a live performance.

What did quickly become apparent, though, was that – when principal harpsichordist Maggie Cole had started playing – one least wanted to be aware, beyond the sound, of what was happening on stage (or in the auditorium as a whole) : for it appeared that one could only give listening one’s best by, with one’s gaze directed upwards, actually least trying to concentrate on it. Not wishing to labour what might resemble some Zen paradox, but Less can be more [as in a Sinfonia concert, at Saffron Hall (@SaffronHallSW), with, first, Frank Zappa's The Perfect Stranger] : to have one’s attention not on the instant moment, and rather on absorbing the overall patterns and impressions (from which it felt that the mechanical aspects, revealed visually, served too much as a distraction).


In a book published not long before Ligeti's death, Richard Steinitz (in the couple of pages devoted to Continuum (1968)⁴) starts by telling how it was one of thirty-eight pieces that were commissioned by Antoinette Vischer for her instrument (which, over time, seems to have eclipsed those by the likes of Cage, Berio and Henze), and that it was written for the sturdy ‘modern’ two-manual harpsichord with 16’, 8’ and 4’ stops (specifically not the type since used in period performance). In summary, Steinitz says that, at the correct tempo for the piece, each hand (one on each manual) depresses 16-17 keys per second⁵, and that its genesis was in Goffried Michael Koenig's discoveries in the electronic studio in Cologne : he became Ligeti's mentor (and Ligeti assisted with his electronic work Essay (1957-1958)). The new understanding from which Continuum derived was having found a rate at (and above) which a succession of pitches coalesces as chords, and the pitches are then not distinguishable as a line of melody.

Steinitz then goes on to describe, in general terms (and before talking about the harmonic progressions, and how and in what way they operate), how rhythm operates on three levels (the first being what he characterizes as the incessant ‘clatter’ of the foreground pulses) – it was precisely by being open to the music, and letting it come through (without, as described above, trying to focus overly on it), that what Steinitz analyses in two further paragraphs (which are well worth reading, in context⁶) was audible at the two levels beyond that of 'clatter', one (the second) being the rate at which patterns repeat in the piece, and the other (the third) that at which the choice of pitch changes. (These brief comments had been written after the concert, but before consulting Steinitz's book : Perhaps the piece exists, in this way, in the cycles between and within the cycles : not quite as with a work by Steve Reich, with whose approach one hears different things and in a different way, but as with other works by Ligeti.)


In preparation for hearing Continuum some other time, then, it might be best to practise (or remember, at any rate, to exercise) that relaxation of active awareness, and also to leave reacquaintance with the work until the event. This is on the basis that one can have Too much of a good thing, whereas the less-concentrated, but no less powerful, effects of Ligeti’s Chamber Concerto [including the use of harpsichord in the third and fourth movements, marked, respectively, Movimento preciso e maccanico and Presto] make it more susceptible to repeated listening : in tribute to Pierre Boulez (26 March 1925 to 5 January 2016), the link is to his recording with The Ensemble Intercontemporain.

Whatever others were hearing, and how they chose to listen and what to watch, one necessarily did not know, but the conclusion of the piece brought Maggie Cole a tremendously appreciative round of applause, which saw her return for a further bow.


Finally, after the inordinate amount of space taken on a piece that lasted four minutes… With the reversal that had been announced of the order of the final two vocal pieces, we heard the third Bach aria, before the new commission by Anna Clyne (at the mid-point of a world-premiere tour).

(6) Tief gebückt und voller Reue [from the Cantata Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut (BWV 199)], again, as with the first aria in the revised order (Seufzer, Tränen, Kummer, Not), from 1714, seemed reminiscent of the sound-world of The Brandenburg Concertos (BWV 1046–1051), especially - as explained in the next paragraph - No. 3 (in G Major) : as is well known, the six instrumental works are so called, because, in 1721 (although they are thought to have been composed earlier), they were presented to the Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt.


The opening bar of BWV 1048 (as we might call it), which the Sinfonia will be bringing to Saffron Hall in a concert on 15 May, contains just two semi-quavers (as one can see above). They, with the first note of the next bar (a quaver), form a rhythmic and tonal three-note motif (and then, further down the treble stave, it immediately repeats, for the first of numerous times – taking it next up the stave once more, and then down). Although the aria also has, as an obvious feature to the cello part, such a semi-tone ‘dip and back’, it does not have the Concerto’s insistence, albeit a gentle one – as of links in a chain, and making for a higher level of patterning [not wholly dissimilar, dare one say, to the effect of the various levels, as Steinitz calls them (please see above), of rhythmicity that one could discern within Continuum ?].


To how this five-line text had been set, and the honest metaphysics of its words, the Sinfonia instrumentalists assisted Julia Doyle in bringing poise of vocal expression, so that (in the third line) Ich bekenne meine Schuld then balanced against both of the lines that followed (in fact, all of them against each other) : Aber habe doch Geduld / Habe doch Geduld mit mir !. Here, catching Bach’s intention, there was a feint of simply finishing there, with a soft ending, till our hearing a ritornello signalled beginning da capo, and then closing, so that we were plunged back into the words after which it is titled, Tief gebückt und voller Reue.

These three arias, and the company that they kept, worked very well together - as did our soprano and her fellow musicians !


Concluding the hour of music with (7) Anna Clyne’s This Lunar Beauty (2015), setting W. H. Auden’s poem of that name [the text is here], must have been the right thing to do with the programme, and Anna Clyne is not a stranger to having works appearing in Sinfonia concerts. (She can be heard here, in a pre-concert talk with The University of Cambridge’s Kate Kennedy (@DrKKenney), from the final At Lunch 2 concert, at The Wigmore Hall (@wigmore_hall), on the following day.)

The composition felt to have a Scottish ring to it at times, e.g. with the use of a drone on the viola, but also more generally, in its landscape (which perhaps fits with what Clyne says, in that talk, about having studied music at university in Scotland), and it seemed Nymanesque in a vague way (not inconsistently with using a high soprano voice towards the end). We started with oboe, which had been a linking element in these pieces, then Marios Argiros was joined by Clare Finnimore (viola), and next the two violinists, until all were playing.

One can think of works from the Classical period that did likewise, but, in the last hundred years, it has often enough been a feature in neoclassical and modernist works, too : one purpose that it served was to draw attention to the various instruments (for, whilst we cannot be unaware of Bach’s use of obbligato oboe, the role of the cello or harpsichord is much less prominent, and more subtly part of the voice’s accompaniment). Again (hardly for the first time), Clyne makes the soprano seem more part of the ensemble’s range of voices, which we hear from at various times, such as harpsichord figurations with cello and violin.

Except for the Ligeti [for quite other reasons, already very sufficiently given above], This Lunar Beauty was unlike everything else on the programme, and, on a first hearing, a feat to try to take in - not least because of its unfamiliar text, which (despite its simple appearance) is both densely poetical as well as outright difficult to construe in places, even with later quiet reflection (for example, the second half of the second stanza : the text is here). Amidst a lively part for oboe, which at times was up and down scales / parts of them (which is where Michael Nyman somehow first seemed present ?), or elements of pounding from the harpsichord, and definite in their company, the unhurried, tranquil voice (as of The Moon ?) of Julia Doyle, complete with impressively leaping into the higher register before, with some bending of notes, the work came to close.




End-notes

¹ The dates for Scarlatti (2 May 1660 to 22 October 1725) are wrongly given in the programme as 1685–1757 : the latter are those of Aleesandro Scarlatti's son Domenico (now much more famous ?).

² E.g., towards the end of Part I, in the aria for tenor with Chorus Ich will bein meinem Jesu wachen, in the St Matthew Passion (original version 1727) (BWV 244). (Or the Quia respexit from the Magnificat in D Major (from 1733, after the version (from 1723) in E Flat Major) (BWV 243).)

³ In the continuo, one could hear how Bach gave the oboe part shorter note-values than for harpsichord and cello.

⁴ Faber & Faber, London (2003). György Ligeti : Music of the Imagination, pp. 164-166.

⁵ The video of Continuum on YouTube (@YouTube) [where it is called Continuum für Cembalo], to which Britten Sinfonia (@BrittenSinfonia) linked in its Tweet (above, after the introductory paragraph on Continuum), and which simultaneously shows the progress of a piano-roll across the screen, is three minutes and fifty-two seconds, but the actual recording runs to around 3:47 (and is credited as being played by Antoinette Vischer herself – for whom it was written, please see above).

In the last paragraph of his chapter (op. cit., p. 166)), Steinitz talks about Pierre Charial’s adaptation of the piece for barrel-organ (from 1988). According to him, its recorded performance [in the 1997 Ligeti edition] takes just 3:22 (which is faster than Maggie Cole could possibly have played it), because of ‘the superhuman speed with which it can read the perforated rolls’ : the duration for the piece as heard on YouTube, then, is intermediate between that for the version for barrel-organ and what was likely when Cole played it (Steinitz says that four minutes [are] allowed for human players).

In a quicker performance (he is referring to Charial’s mechanical adaptation, but the same would tend to be true when heard played, not in around 4 minutes, but on YouTube in 3:42), Steinitz describes two effects (which would, for those who had heard the recording, have put Cole at a relative disadvantage) in his concluding sentence : The headlong tempo creates a splendid ‘coalescing’, whilst the shifting patterns of second-level rhythm are actually clearer.


⁶ One does have a slight hesitation, though, if one carefully reads what Steinitz writes to describe, in percentage terms, what happens to the slowing in the rate at which notes repeat when the score has the player move from alternating between a pair of notes to repetitively playing them (or other notes ?) with a third note. For he writes (ibid., p. 165), When the opening two-note ostinato of G and B flat acquires an additional F, the rate of repetition automatically slows down by fifty per cent. Lovely to see an author / copy-editor at Faber adhering to ‘per cent’, but is the mathematics behind the statistic itself not awry ?

For, with the initial G and B flat, do the notes not play 50 : 50, but, with the F added, that changes to 33.33 : 33.33 : 33.33 ? Accordingly, unless one mistakes much, is the change in the percentage rate at which either of B flat or G is heard (before and after the F joins them) not by fifty per cent, but, rather from fifty per cent, the calculation of the rate of change being given by : 50 minus 33.33, all divided by 50, then multiplied by 100 (which gives us 33.33 again)... ? Whereas a slowing of 'the rate of repetition [...] by fifty per cent' would surely require the piece to go directly from an alternating pair of notes to a repeating four-note pattern ?




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