S&H Concert Review

Series Z Warehouse 9 Feb, 2001 (JM) Turnage, Knussen, Hesketh, Takemitsu, Adès, Goehr

The music played this evening was, without exception, in the business of consolidating the developments in musical language of the late nineteenth century. In particular, the innovations of Debussy.

Throughout the evening, the discourse of this post-Debussian music was taken as given, as something that could still be treated as a transparent medium without necessarily and immediately, and even intuitively, leaping to a questioning of its formal assumptions. I wondered if it were coincidence that the two pieces which showed (for my ears) the most aesthetic power were the oldest ones, the Takemitsu and the Goehr, written in the 1980's. Could this be evidence to support the view that it is finally becoming seriously difficult to leap the centuries under the disguise of notional contemporaneity? The majority of these pieces were forlorn offerings, abandoned fragments from another world, made not by whole persons but by their imaginative projections. They were set in motion but were without the ontological sustenance that generated their original models.

Yet there they were, Zoe Martlew and Huw Watkins, flesh and blood before us. And they were, after all, giving in a very big way. Watkins elicited beautiful suspended resonances from his piano and Martlew, the richest and longest sustained pizzicato notes I've ever heard from a cello. Debussy's move against the relentless ongoingness of tonal dialectic can be thought of as saying "Stop the music and listen to the sound". Martlew has now acquired (the term is meant to imply years of bloody hard work) a sound to die for. Many times during the evening the music seemed to pause a moment for her cello to throw out just such sounds whose path through time and space the avid ear would trace to the last phonon.

The piece that seemed to bring out the most in her was Takemitsu's Orion. Perhaps Takemitsu was able to BE his influences. Perhaps a distinctly Japanese notion of artistic originality empowered him to embrace entirely the musical language of another culture - where European diffidence sets out a measured identification. Be that as it may, Martlew seemed to lift out from the notations of Orion the acoustic gestures that were most truly hers.

Tim Hodgkinson

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