Performance Space, City University
Berg – Piano Sonata, op.1Schoenberg – Das Buch der hängenden Garten, op.15
Charlie Sdraulig – collector (world premiere)
Lachenmann – Got Lost
Jane Sheldon (soprano)
Zubin Kanga (piano)
This was the first of City University’s free evening recitals I had attended, but I doubt it will be the last. Performances of the Schoenberg and Lachenmann works would drag me considerably further than Islington, and they received fine performances indeed. Added to that, a world premiere and a well-loved apprentice work by one of the most well-loved of all twentieth-century composers, there was much to enjoy.
Instead, though, we heard the first performance of Charlie Sdraulig’s collector, for solo piano. In his brief note, Kanga quoted the composer as having described the work, his first for solo piano, as ‘an individual in a physical environment; an individual re-enacting an exploratory process, staged in pre-defined territories; an individual performing a choreography; an individual’s touch mediated by their listening.’ That all made a certain degree of sense during the performance, but I am afraid I found the tapping of the surface of the keys wore thin rather quickly. Occasional notes were ‘played’, as we should normally understand, and there was certainly an entertaining element of performance art to what we saw and, to an extent, to what we heard too. Perhaps, though, I was just not on the right wave-length.
Not that I have any problem with extended techniques as such, with re-examination of the capabilities of an instrument, with deconstruction and reconstruction of what it does and might do. But Lachenmann’s 2009 Got Lost had all, and more of, the elements of performance art whilst impressing in a very ‘traditional’ way too. In this performance from Sheldon and Kanga, again both excellent, I really gained a sense of the parallels, perhaps even dialectical relationship, between the composer’s deconstruction of his initial texts – Nietzsche, Fernando Pessoa, and a notice concerning the loss of laundry (!) – and some of his musical procedures too. That was probably more intuitive than considered, but listening and indeed performing experience can be mediated in more than one way at different times. Many of the virtues of the Schoenberg performance, not least the array of expression, were apparent once again, renewed, reinvigorated, in a new yet perhaps related context. Expression struck me as something to be considered both in a quasi-Romantic sense and something I might be old-fashioned enough still to call avant-gardist: insofar, of course, as the two are not the same thing, as well as similar. There could be no gainsaying the virtuosity of the performers, but it always seemed focused upon the work and the possibilities it offered. I was reminded of a tribute by Lachenmann to Nono, his teacher, in which the former recalled approvingly the ‘irritation’ experienced by erstwhile colleagues such as Stockhausen at Nono’s having taken up and, yes, preserved ‘the traditional “big” expressive tone, the gesture full of pathos, lyricism, drama and emotion such as has been handed down from Monteverdi, Beethoven or Schoenberg.’