Royal Festival Hall
Nono – Canti per 13
Nono – Polifonica-monodia-ritmica
Stockhausen – Gruppen
Royal Academy of Music Manson Ensemble
Martyn Brabbins, Baldur Brönnimann, and Geoffrey Paterson (conductors)
Stockhausen and Nono provided the music for the second of my 'Rest is Noise' weekend concerts. As seems to have become common practice, Stockhausen’s Gruppen was performed twice: not only sensible in terms of utilising the forces assembled, but also a wonderful opportunity to listen again with the experience both of the first performance and of other works fresh in the mind. Augmented by players from the Royal Academy of Music Manson Ensemble, the London Sinfonietta under Baldur Brönnimann, Martyn Brabbins, and Geoffrey Paterson offered perhaps the finest ‘live’ performances I have yet heard, especially the second time around, when there was almost the sense of an encore – and, as we all know, encores often offer the best performances of all. Stockhausen’s music beguiled and viscerally excited; space really seemed to become time, and vice versa. On the first performance in particular, I seemed, for whatever reason, to be particular attuned to the ghosts of German Romanticism, post-war claims for a ‘Stunde Null’ notwithstanding. Horns from the Weberian past, Mahlerian vistas, a clarinet from Pierrot (or indeed the Symphonies of Wind Instruments, for this is not entirely as German matter), a sweet, Berg-like violin line: all seemed to announce and to lose themselves in a world inconceivable without Schoenberg’s op.16 Orchestral Pieces, ‘Farben’ in particular. Solo piano pre-empted Stravinsky’s Movements. Messiaen-like ‘spirituality’ – an abused word, yet here apt – suffused the performances. There were ‘moments’, both in the general sense and in Stockhausen’s more particular sense, of great beauty, but equally there were connections, both intellectual, and perhaps most extraordinary of all, spatial. I do not think I have experienced a more completely successful sense of the three orchestras coming together, and yet, at the same time, the sound passing through them. Insofar as a ‘conventional’ concert hall can convey Stockhausen’s spatial vision, the Royal Festival Hall did an excellent job: one orchestra on stage, the other two surrounding the side stalls. Antiphonal harps worked their magic. Brass conversations inevitably brought to mind Gabrieli and the Venetian past, also preparing the way for Nono.