Webmaster: Len Mullenger
Seen and Heard Concert Review
Messiaen, Amaral and Eötvös: Peter Eötvös (conductor), London Sinfonietta, Paul Crossley (piano), Marco Blaauw (trumpet), David Hockings (percussion), Omar Ebrahim (speaker), Sounds Intermedia. Queen Elizabeth Hall, 25.2. 2006 (AO)
Messiaen: Oiseaux exotiques
Amaral: Paraphrase (world premičre)
Eötvös: Snatches of a conversation, Triangel (UK Premičre)
Messiaen listened to caged birds and recordings while writing Oiseaux exotiques and his other 'bird' pieces. In Réveil des oiseaux (1953) the composer had been anxious to let the birdsong speak for itself but in Oiseaux exotiques (1956) the birds serve a more stylised purpose: their songs become hooks for other musical ideas. This technique, along with Messiaen's interest in the "oriental" effects of gongs and drums certainly appealed to the radical young composers of the time as "new music".
Paul Crossley played the piece with muscular agility, as did the soloists portraying the “bird” movements, but I did wonder if Messiaen’s true soul lay in pondering things beyond human invention. I felt much the same on hearing Pedro Amaral’s Paraphrase which does in fact paraphrase both an earlier work and also many phrases and themes from within the pieceitself. The solo trumpet, superbly played by Marco Blaauw, led the ensemble into endless reinvention. Some of the effects were particularly good, such as the deeply resonant winds and strings answering low passages on the trumpet and then taken up by piano. Patterns built on patterns. As with the Messiaen though, I wondered if compositional technique had outbalanced emotion in this piece but since Amaral is still only 34, he has many years of composition ahead of him.
Eötvös’s Snatches of a Conversation was written the morning after the composer had conducted Janacek at Glyndebourne. It is a piece exploring verbal rhythms and the sound of syntax - not a new idea, particularly as the range of spoken sounds is fairly limited. The music comes across as an impressionistic, half remembered dream recalling the experience of the opera conducted the night before and it would be easy to make too much of the jazz flavoured trumpet playing (and the bluesy verbal response to it) for again this is nothing particularly new. Eötvös himself says of it however that he was primarily thinking about opera when he wrote it and the jazz episode is only a part of the whole, like a minor character in a plot. He thinks of the piece as an “Étude”, a study, for his opera Le Balcon - paraphrases yet again! Playing a double bell trumpet, which allowed him to alternate rapidly between different mutes, Marco Blaauw transcended the work's limitations and illuminated its strengths.
Eötvös’s reputation rests on greater things. His
instinct as a man of theatre can rise above mere form
and in Triangel the music itself becomes the
drama - significantly, each performance of the piece
is unique, because improvisation is central to its
concept. Tensions between the composed parts and
the improvisations give the music a real sense of
emotional risk taking and adventure but even without
this the piece is the essence of music “as theatre”
since it overturns the usual spatial constructs of
the orchestra. The smallest and most basic instrument,
the triangle, is dominant throughout and the percussionist
features as player, leader and composer. Some effects
are particularly striking (literally and figuratively)
as when the triangle leads the tuba and kettle drums
while the sight of huge, menacing gongs in the background
hints at even more drama to come. The piece is intricate
and built up of ten tableaux, each experimenting with
different kinds of percussion and with both the relationships
between them and with other instruments.
David Hockings' performance as the percussion soloist was a particularly stimulating experience. His materials may be simple, but he brings out of them a range of sound that springs from a truly creative imagination. At one point he balanced a cymbal on the rim of the timpani and as the drum was beaten, the cymbal responded sympathetically apparently of its own volition. Deftly beating the cymbal itself, produced a further apparently self-induced effect and when cymbal and the drum were played simultaneously each responded in new ways: even the relative positioning of cymbal on drum created further interesting effects. At the very end the piece, the triangle returned, alone, humble and plaintive, evoking for me the Winterreise's Leiermann playing his primitive tune while impervious to the storms and anguish around him.