S&H Festival Report

Strasbourg Festival Report Part two (PGW)

Two Concerts with Accordions
Ensemble 2e2m/Franck Ollu with Pascal Contet (accordion) 30 September,
Auditorium France 3 Alsace, Strasbourg
Quatuor Spiegelwith Teodoro Anzellotti (accordion) 2 October,
France 3 Alsace auditorium (PGW)

On 30 November at the France 3 auditorium, the crack Parisian Ensemble 2e2m conducted by Franck Ollu gave one of those programmes seemingly compiled by a committee, with the nowadays obligatory minimalist contribution (Bernard Cavanna's deliberately naive solo harp pieces its nadir) alongside more interesting music. Sciarrino's Introduzione all'Oscuro (1981) incorporates references to heart beats and breathing,speeding and slowing in its evanescent, elusive sequences of spectral sounds. Bettina Skrzypcazak's settings of Borges featured a fine English dramatic soprano, Sophie Grimmer, in carefully enunciated French and German.

Regrettably there were no English translations in the programme book (for Szymanowski's King Roger in the Strasbourg Orchestre National's season - not part of Musica - there had been free libretti in four languages). Their routine provision would enhance appreciation immeasurably for British and American visitors to this international festival in the city of the European Parliament. (By arrangement with a UK MEP we were able to attend the Parliament as observers (with multi-lingual earphones) for a debate on European responses to international terrorism and the recent attacks upon USA of Sept 11).


Most intriguing in 2e2m's concert was the premiere of a quirky, unpredictable new accordion concerto by Aurel Stroë(b. 1932), at first unsettling, by the end endearing, its youthful character belying the frail, bowed appearance of this diffident Romanian veteran musicologist and composer. Its shifting character is indicated by the sub-title and movements headings:

Between the glorious and the bizarre is a certain proportion; I. Chorales and invention in homage to Satie. II. Dissipative fugue III. Multimobile. Each movement tackles a different concept of time, with bottom-heavy instrumentation including bass clarinet, double bassoon, bass trombone and tuba, the last bringing the whole to an exhausted end with a final cadenza, after a mad, whirling aleotaric race in which everyone seemed to play frenetically without reference to anyone else, the conductor abdicating close control in favour of occasional signals. Pascal Contet should certainly be invited to play Stroë's Accordion Concerto in UK.

The accordion has during the last decade established itself as a rewarding instrument for contemporary composers. Another famous accordionist, Teodoro Anzellotti (who had premiered numerous important works composed for him including Berio's Sequenza XIII) was featured with the excellent Belgian Quatuor Spiegel in a more focussed programme at the same concert hall a few days later. This gave an opportunity to renew acquaintance with the music of Matthias Pintscher (b.1971), who had made a positive impression in England at Hoxton Hall and will have a Portrait Concert recorded by the BBC on December 1.

[Matthias Pintscher]
The Quatuor Spiegel demonstrated supersensitivity in Pintscher's half-hour single movement String Quartet of 1992 (No.4 already - he was then only 21) which was constructed as a gloss on the 'gestures and sighs' of Gesualdo's madrigal Sospirava il mio core - music of subtlety and sonic space, demanding concentrated attention and necessitating a silent ambience such as the France 3 auditorium provides.

After a forgettable little wisp of an accordion piece by Sciarrino, and an uncommonly mellifluous account of Xenakis' Tetras, the quartet was joined by Anzellotti in the French premiere of Pintscher's Figura Zyklus I-V, pieces composed during each of the years 1997-2000. Inspired by 'les statues fragmentaires' of Giacometti, they evok lean gestural music, seeking to capture in sound the 'moment de fragmentarité', with tones often vanishing to silence, as is Pintscher's way. Totalling about 15 mins as of now, Pintscher's most astounding and fruitful discovery is the capability of an extraordinary blend between string quartet and accordion timbres, their tones often so close as to be virtually interchangeable. The first piece was for the quintet, two for quartet alone, separated by an accordion solo, and the final Figura (as of now) is a movingly expressive piece for cello alone. I hope that Matthias Pintscher will choose to cap and complete the series with another piece which brings together again quartet and accordion (this programme would then make a rewarding CD) and that some composers reading this will take note of the potentiality of that combination.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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