Monday, 7 October 2013

London Sinfonietta/RAM Manson Ensemble/Brabbins, Brönnimann, Paterson: Stockhausen and Nono, 6 October 2013

Royal Festival Hall
Stockhausen – Gruppen
Nono – Canti per 13
Nono – Polifonica-monodia-ritmica
Stockhausen – Gruppen

London Sinfonietta
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.

It was a little odd to read in the programme that Nono was a ‘late bloomer’, given that we were to hear performances of works from 1955 and 1951, respectively, the composer having been born in 1924. At any rate, those performances proved that he was nothing of the sort; we may or may not prefer his exquisite, late existentialist explorations, but here were crucial contributions to the musical world of ‘Darmstadt’, thirty years earlier. Canti per 13, first performed by the Domaine musical under the batonless hands of its dedicatee, Boulez, brought Webern still closer than he had sounded with Stockhausen, though there was equally to be heard a lyricism that was far from identical with that of the Austrian composer. Those lapping waves of Venice that seem to envelop the late Prometeo were already more than hinted at. So were the cries of ‘provocation’, something Nono said that he always required in order to conceive of a new piece. Notes, shards, and connections, as in Webern, were equally to the fore, for which of course the performers must receive a great deal of credit. A single note, an interval, a Klangfarbenmelodie: we experienced these as emotional utterances, even truths, not just compositional material.

The earlier Polifonica-Monodia-Ritmica is both starker and, if anything, still more songful. So it certainly sounded here, showing that greater pointillism and melody are not in any sense antithetical; indeed, the melodic impulse was always palpable. Nono’s hushed atmosphere again seemed already to breathe, at least in part, the air of a world we more readily associate with his late works. There was undeniable strength too, the work’s cumulative power increasingly conveying the sense of a processional, not unlike Boulez’s considerably later Rituel in memoriam Bruno Maderna (the latter, of course, for much larger forces than this ensemble piece). What a spirit of adventure remains in this music, as vigorous and as sensuous as ever!