Opera + Classical Music Reviews

London Sinfonietta/Rihm @ Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

24 January 2012

Queen Elizabeth Hall

Queen Elizabeth Hall (Photo: Morley von Sternberg)

The London Sinfonietta welcomed back Wolfgang Rihm to the Queen Elizabeth Hall with three works by the man himself as well as a piece each from his former pupils Rebecca Saunders and Jrg Widmann.

Dedicated to the memory of Luigi Nono (one of five works dedicated to the Italian master of quietude) Ricercare could just as easily have been dedicated to Anton Webern consisting as it did of short, tantalizing exhalations of abbreviated sound. Fourteen members of the Sinfonietta gently (and with generous helpings of silence), nurtured sourly sweet textures with discreet percussion adding intensity to the final nugget.

Following that tentative opener was something by Rebecca Saunders (a composer apparently much admired among those in the know). Quartet is a bit of a misnomer for a piece that contained five instruments (accordion, piano, double bass, bass clarinet and non-bass clarinet). Saunders made admirable and clear use of her material, introducing individual, and idiomatic ideas to each of the players (the accordion stealing the show thanks, in part, to its rarity) and then shifting their combinations while simultaneously adding to the number of individual motives. A fascinating piece, but Quartet did seem to lose some of its momentum in the more deliberately beautiful sections, as well as retaining something of an all-to-professional air.

A very welcome change of gear came when Widmanns piece began. Tacky, crass and cheap Dubairische Tnze (Generic Dubai Dances) was free of all pretensions to profundity. Like one of Mahlers schmaltzy waltzes arranged by Charles Ives it mocked as it charmed. When placed in such a po-faced context Widmann shone like his iconoclastic forebears. Overflowing with great warmth and wit, the music wasnt merely pastiche, there were pockets of gravity, too with a mastery of orchestration lending depth to Widmanns exuberance. The percussionists splashing-water-duet was a particularly irresistible moment even for those in the audience who had decided in advance that humour doesnt belong in music. Titters abounded.

Rihms Nach-Schrift brought us back to the terrain of doom-laden atmospheres replete with twitching piano, squealing clarinet and aching strings. Regardless of the form of the work, the sound-world is so over-familiar that the piece barely registered at first. Only in the final two pages when the music became as dramatic rhythmically as it was harmonically did it defend itself with arresting vehemence.

His last work in the programme Will Sound More Again exists in musical contrast to its predecessor Will Sound, and managed to combine dense contrapuntal textures, instigated by tenor and alto saxophones, with pristine clarity as conductor Thierry Fischer coaxed sparks out of the thrilling ensemble.

Further details of Queen Elizabeth Hall concerts can be found at southbankcentre.co.uk

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