Birtwistle – Fantasia upon all the notes (2012)Carter – Enchanted Preludes (1988)
Esprit rude/Esprit doux (1985)
John Adams – Shaker Loops (1978)
Carter – Mosaic (2004)
Birtwistle – The Moth Requiem (2012)
Nicholas Kok (conductor)
A funny programme this: not the combination of Harrison Birtwistle and Elliott Carter, for they provided refreshing, invigorating contrast, but the presence of John Adams’s Shaker Loops, which really did not seem to have anything to do with either, and whose poverty of invention sounded all the more glaring in such august company. I am not sure how long it lasted, but it seemed interminable; waiting for the music to start proved a futile experience. Doubtless whatever objections one may level will be countered with an all too easy ‘but that is the point’. ‘Process music’ is all well and good – well, perhaps – in theory, but this does not even have the courage to be truly unbearable, in the ‘Yes, I’ll confess, just please let me out’ mode of Philip Glass. It seems more soft-centred, more pandering, and yet ultimately there seems at that centre to be nothing but a vacuum. The seven string players – two violins, two violas, two cellos, and double bass – of the Nash Ensemble could not be faulted in the incisive commitment of their response under Nicholas Kok. How on earth one keeps one’s concentration in such conditions I do not know. Still, at least it was good to be reminded of the æsthetic nullity of music too insubstantial even for a Michael Nyman soundtrack.