Monday, 11 September 2017

Musikfest Berlin (4) – Ensemble Musikfabrik, Aperghis, Lim, Schöllhorn, Baltakas, Zorn, Saunders, and Poppe, 10 September 2017


Kammermusiksaal, Philharmonie

Georges Aperghis: Damespiel, for bass clarinet (2011)
Liza Lim: The Green Lion Eats the Sun, for double bell euphonium (2014)
Johannes Schöllhorn: grisaille, for cello (2013)
Vykintas Baltakas: Pasaka – Ein Märchen, for piano (1995-97)
Liza Lim: Axis Mundi, for bassoon (2012-13)
John Zorn: Merlin, for trumpet (2016)

Rebecca Saunders: fury, for double bass (2005)
Enno Poppe: Haare, for violin (2013-14)
Saunders: shadow, for piano (2013)
Poppe: Fell, for percussion (2016)
Saunders: Bite, for flute (2016)

Carl Rosman (clarinet)
Melvyn Poore (euphonium)
Dirk Wietheger (cello)
Alban Wesly (bassoon)
Marco Blaauw (trumpet)
Florentin Ginot (double bass)
Hannah Weirich (violin)
Ulrich Löffler and Benjamin Kobler (piano)
Dirk Rothbrust (percussion)
Helen Bledsoe (flute)


Alas, I was only able to stay for two out of the three sections of this lengthy Matinée concert from soloists of Ensemble Musikfabrik. That meant that I missed out on George Lewis’s Oraculum, Toshio Hosakawa, Three Essays, and two world premieres: Tansy Davies’s Song Horn and Enno Poppe’s Filz. Eleven out of the fifteen solo works still gave me much to experience, enjoy, and reflect upon. And if, unsurprisingly, some spoke to me more from a single hearing – each one was new to me – that does not necessarily reflect upon their ‘worth’. Indeed, it is quite likely to say more about me and my state of alertness than anything else. What probably goes without saying, yet should not, are the extraordinary virtuosity, musicality, and commitment shown by all of these soloists – not least coming on the morning immediately following a not inconsiderable concert of music by Rebecca Saunders and Harrison Birtwistle.


In the first two pieces, Georges Aperghsis’s Damespiel and Liza Lim’s The Green Lion Eats the Sun, I was struck by something at least akin to a ‘traditional’ conception of unbroken line, not least in performance, even when silence formed part of that line. The former, toccata-like, often high in pitch, with considerable, often thrilling, variation in dynamic range too, nevertheless contrasted strongly, interestingly with what seemed to me two contrasted voices, in near-consequential dialogue, in the latter, that impression not least owed to the two bells of the euphonium (one muted). Johannes Schöllhorn’s grisaille was slower, stiller, its navigation through the not quite frozen waters of cello harmonics again offering contrast with the ensuing Pasaka – Ein Märchen for piano, in which Benjamin Kobler had, in addition to an unquestionably demanding piano part, also to tell the story in words (irrespective of comprehension!) It had a beguiling innocence to it, the single(ish) piano line, shared between the hands, blossoming into something more complex, again toccata-like. (That perhaps often will go with the territory of works for instrumental solo.) Another work by Lim, Axis Mundi, again showed a keen sense (to me, at least) of dialogue, in this case between the lower range of the bassoon and something else, not quite to be straightforwardly assimilated to higher pitch. If I could not quite escape the sense of notespinning in John Zorn’s Merlin, for trumpet solo, Marco Blauuw’s performance proved quite mesmerising.


The second – and, for me, final – of the concert’s three parts alternated between Saunders and Poppe. Florentin Ginot’s double bass playing had impressed me enormously the night before, even amongst such a galaxy of instrumental talent; here it did so again in fury. Almost the entire range of the instrument seemed traversed within a few seconds, and that despite the relative leisure of the pace. That done, a dark heir to the Expressionist past revealed itself, without overt, or perhaps even covert, ‘influence’, but at the level of something deeper. I thought of Anselm Kiefer, but again that may just have been me. Poppe’s Haare for solo violin opened almost as if playing with a Bachian wedge opening, although it never quite was. One was made to listen, perhaps almost so as to ascertain what was not repetition. If that sounds quasi-minimalist, I am not sure that it was, but perhaps there was some sort of relationship there. I loved the wild excess of Hannah Weirich’s vibrato (which I presume to have been written in), suggestive almost of a theremin, not least in glissando passages. I was a little more at a loss with Poppe’s Fell for percussion, although again there was no gainsaying the quality of the performance. Either side of it fell another solo piano piece, Saunders’s shadow, and her Bite for solo bass flute. The piano piece, played by Ulrich Löffler, again had something of an intangible sense of association to ‘tradition’ – Stockhausen, perhaps? – without being determined by it. There was certainly no doubting its bold, substantial quality of utterance. The shadows of the bass flute were readily apparent, yet for shadows to have meaning, there must be light, and so there was, in a vivid creation, both compositional and performative (Helen Bledsoe) of chiaroscuro.


I think that, in the case of pretty much all of these pieces, we have probably now reached a stage at which the phrase ‘extended techniques’ has become superfluous. Composers and performers alike, perhaps audiences too, have ensured that, not least through occasions such as this.

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