London Sinfonietta’s staunch commitment to
the music of our time was amply demonstrated
in this programme of one London, one European
and two World premieres. Three of the four
composers were in attendance.
Kagel’s Double Sextet (2000/1) is, perhaps
uncharacteristically for this composer, a
piece that creates an organic unity from the
germs heard at the very start of the work.
The title refers to the instrumentation (six
wind and six strings). Actually, the scoring
is interesting as it omits clarinets and violas
so that, in theory at least, there is the
potential for the creating of an acoustic
space (or a hole, if you like). The omission
of brass takes the edge off the sound, so
the buzzing, high-voltage opening actually
sets the timbral scene perfectly. As always
with this composer, there was something strangely
compelling about the whole affair - how a
wacky sense of humour surfaces (or threatens
to surface) from time to time; how a tonal
referent can have a jarring affect because
of being shorn of its traditional directionality
and how a Kagel melody (lyrical and expressive)
can shock by its sheer contextual daring.
No better beginning to the concert can be
composer Silvana Milstein (born 1956) is currently
on the faculty of King’s College, London (KQC).
Her Tigres Azules (2003, ‘Blue Tigers’)
takes its inspiration from a story by Borges.
Scored for continuo of harpsichord, piano,
harp, celesta and tuned percussion, complemented
by five wind and five strings, the sound-world
of the piece invoked Boulez in its luxuriance.
There is a distinctly Romantic heart to this
work. Milstein’s scoring is very appealing
(at times positively bejewelled), occasionally
seeming to refer back of Schoenberg’s Accompaniment
to a Cinematographic Scene in its intensity
and constant shifts.
Read Thomas’ In My Sky at Twilight
(2002) is subtitled ‘Songs of Passion and
Love’. Poetic fragments from sixteen different
poets are divided into two movements (‘Deeper
than Roses’ and ‘Lament’), separated by an
instrumental interlude. Thomas’ expert scoring
and use of contrasts makes for an interesting
25 minutes, if not making up a whole that
is memorable enough to return to frequently.
Despite all the wonderful efforts of the remarkable
soprano Claire Booth (who negotiated the disjunct
lines with ease and also sang both with passion
and with purity), this set of personal responses
to varied texts failed to convince. Compositional
technique was never in doubt, but moments
of ‘maximum risk and striving’ (which the
composer claims to be her favourite moments)
were few and far between.
Sinfonietta saved their ‘big’ premiere until
last. Dialogues for piano and chamber
orchestra (2003) is a ‘conversation between
soloist and orchestra’. They respond to one
another, interrupt each other and argue. If
that implies a certain etiquette in proceedings
in comparison with the Piano Concerto of 38
years earlier, Dialogues is nevertheless
one of the best Carter pieces I have heard.
Bayan Northcott in his note refers to the
unpredictability of a real conversation, and
this is very much what is on offer here. The
pianist, Nicolas Hodges, was superb in his
performance of the solo part. The opening
cor anglais solo rather surprisingly brought
the world of Tristan to mind and another
surprise came in the form of an ‘Orpheus-taming-the-beasts’
moment. Carter’s imagination still gushes
to hear the BBC broadcast on Saturday, February