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Snapshots: Fiftieth birthday tributes for Oliver Knussen
Louis ANDRIESSEN (b. 1939)

Very Sharp Trumpet Sonata

Charles WUORINEN (b. 1938)

Fifty Fifty

Alexander GOEHR (b. 1932)

only two notes for olly (the other five for later)

Detlev GLANERT (b. 1960)

Dancing Landscape

Elliot CARTER (b. 1908)

Au Quai

Hans Werner HENZE (b. 1926)

Olly on the Shore

Augusta Read THOMAS (b. 1964)

Light the First Light of Evening

Robert ZUIDAM (b. 1964)

I suppose a Fugue is out of Question

Colin MATTHEWS (b. 1946)

Flourish, with fireflies

Julian ANDERSON (b. 1967)

Quasi una Passacaglia

Mark-Anthony TURNAGE (b. 1960)

Snapshots

George BENJAMIN (b. 1960)

Olicantus

Magnus LINDBERG (b. 1958)

Bubo bubo

London Sinfonietta/George Benjamin
Rolf Hind and Nicolas Hodges (pianos)
Recorded live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 12th June 2002 DDD
LONDON SINFONIETTA LABEL SINF CD1-2004 [41:41]


Some years ago now the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra were one of the first British orchestras to pioneer their own record label. More recently the London Symphony Orchestra have followed suit (to considerable acclaim) and in the last year or so the Hallé have joined the club.

The decision of the London Sinfonietta to follow the same path is a particularly exciting one for contemporary music enthusiasts given what must be a treasure trove of archive material that could potentially be drawn upon. Much of this material would have originated from BBC recordings and it is the BBC that is responsible for the recording of this live concert with which the Sinfonietta has chosen to launch their new venture.

2002 saw the fiftieth birthday of Oliver Knussen, a musician who has been more involved than most with the Sinfonietta in recent years, including a period as the ensembleís Music Director from 1998 to 2002. In her booklet note introduction to the disc, Gillian Moore, the Artistic Director of the Sinfonietta, comments that the original idea was to ask a handful of Knussenís closest composer friends to write brief birthday pieces for him. However, "word got round" and before they knew it they were having to draw the line at thirteen contributions. Subsequently, the decision was taken that this could form an appropriate double celebration of both one of our most revered musicians and the launch of the new label.

It is no surprise that the stylistic range of the composers represented is vast, from the extreme concision and relative simplicity of Louis Andriessenís minute Very Sharp Trumpet Sonata to the uncompromising and characteristic grittiness of Charles Wuorinen and Elliot Carterís contributions. The latterís cunningly titled ensemble piece Au Quai is typical of the composer in its craftsmanship and is notable for being based on a short story by Arnold Schoenberg in which he tells of the anxious return of the fishermen of a French village following a storm. From here a direct link can be traced to Schoenberg the composer in the music of Alexander Goehr whose father, the conductor Walter Goehr, studied with the elder statesman. His only two notes for olly is a study in restricted musical material comprising five brief, continuous sections within which Goehr creates amazing variety from the humble notes of F and B. Detlev Glanertís Dancing Landscape for two pianos builds from an innocuous opening through a variety of Latin and dance rhythms before retreating to its opening material once again whilst Hans Werner Henzeís Olly on the Shore is an affectionate and fleeting picture for solo piano of Knussen gazing out to sea from his Aldeburgh home. American Augusta Read Thomas compares her Light the First Light of Evening to the blaze of light upon the initial striking of a match, the ensemble appropriately bright in pitch and instrumentation. Robert Zuidam amusingly buries the melody of happy birthday (somebody had to do it!) in his piano miniature I suppose a Fugue is out of the Question. Colin Matthews provides one of the most engaging contributions in Flourish, with fireflies, the title itself a play on Knussenís own Flourish with Fireworks, the material consciously drawing on Knussenís own soundworld without resorting to derivation until the final bar when the piece concludes with the pivotal chord that forms the fulcrum of Knussenís Third Symphony (anyone who knows the symphony will instantly recognise the chord in question!). Julian Anderson, a Knussen protégé who has forged his own career as one of our most talented young composers provides an initially disarmingly sparse theme and variations for solo piano in his Quasi una Passacaglia that gradually gathers embellishment during its four minute discourse. The familiar jazz inflections of Mark Anthony Turnage are immediately evident in his Snapshots, an entertaining development of a two bar riff from his own work, Scorched. George Benjaminís beautifully crafted Olicantus is a ravishingly mellow and resonant ensemble piece, almost Takemitsu like in its gentle progress and all the more memorable for being one of the few genuinely slow pieces on the disc. From the coruscating, descending figures at the very opening of Bubo bubo, the voice of Magnus Lindberg could hardly be more recognisable. A virtuosic and energy driven showpiece that appropriately mirrors Knussenís tireless and selfless energy in his championship of other composerís music before it concludes in a blaze of radiance.

There is much to be enjoyed in almost all of these pieces although I would suggest starting with the Matthews, Lindberg and Benjamin. All three of their works are memorable, albeit for entirely differing reasons.

In conclusion I can only congratulate the London Sinfonietta on the launch of their new venture and wish them every possible success for this and future releases. The contribution of the Sinfonietta to contemporary music and musicians both in this country and abroad cannot be underestimated and on this basis alone they deserve to succeed in spectacular fashion.

Christopher Thomas



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