For the London Sinfoniettas Written/Unwritten series the notoriously cutting-edge ensemble dared to ask the question: What happens when you give a group of musicians the chance to write their own music? The answer was It depends.
A mixed programme of Xenakis, Berio, Tarasov and Bourne was a delightful prospect, including old favourites and entirely new and unknown works.
One of Xenakis shorter masterpieces for percussion Rebonds B is an intense, sometimes witty etude that demands all the resources of the soloist. Oliver Lowe was perhaps not a great showman in this work, but he shone as a fearsome and focussed performer, wringing everything he could out of the piece and the audience. As it should be!
Vladimir Tarasovs Adagio from Concert for Flies, a duo for violin and bass was a charming affair, with its contrasting composed (fairly tame) and improvised (the usual set of experimental twitching and scratching) sections. It was easily overshadowed by the more serious and skilful Xenakis duo Charisma for cello and clarinet. Here were the thrilling results of experimentation, rather than the experiments themselves. A powerful, evocative score reminiscent of Gerhard Richters scrape paintings, with all their exquisitely rendered violence. Beautifully played by Lucy Railton and Katherine Lacy.
Two lesser works by Berio (for solo clarinet and solo cello) framed a fast and flimsy improvisation by Matthew Bourne at the piano, which was when things took a turn for the worse. Can lick and not wait, a larger-scale work by Bourne followed, wandering between faux-luscious murmurings and tutti-tantrum sections in a pretty aimless fashion. For all its strangeness and unpredictability, the music showed a disappointing lack of substance, leaving the listener with nothing to grasp or grapple with. This could easily have something to do with the nature of the score how much was composed? How much was left to the performers? Either way success or failure always rests on the shoulders of whoevers name is credited in the programme. He is a gifted performer and natural talent and Bourne may turn out to be an interesting composer, but hes not there yet.
The final hurrah was an over-indulgent piece of onanism (not the word I wrote down at the time). An improvisation between Bourne on piano and Tarasov on percussion, it leaned heavily on the weaker aspects of the concert and was sadly directionless, forgettable music. Another ambitious, but under-baked cake from Londons most arresting new music ensemble.
Further details of Purcell Room concerts can be found at southbankcentre.co.uk