LSO/Eötvös: Bach, Lachenmann & Brahms

LSO LogoPeter Eötvös. Photo Copyright © Priska KettererIt is fairly rare to come across a pro­gramme that forms a clear, co­herent unit without re­sorting to gim­micky themes or tenuous as­so­ci­ations. So it was pleasing to hear the un­ob­trusive logic that bound to­gether the LSO’s Sunday-evening pro­gramme at Barbican Hall of Bach (arr. Webern), Lachenmann and Brahms, a pro­gramme ap­par­ently con­ceived by pi­anist Maurizio Pollini, which can only count as yet an­other test­a­ment to his re­mark­able musicianship.

Webern’s ar­range­ment of the Ricercar a 6 from The Musical Offering drapes Bach’s music with a richly Viennese sense of colour and, under the dir­ec­tion of Peter Eötvös, at times seemed to lilt and hes­itate in an al­most Romantic fashion. However, far from sinking into a blur, Webern’s or­ches­tra­tion pro­duces a ter­rific clarity as the lines pass from in­stru­ment to in­stru­ment, the al­most hy­per­active col­our­a­tion re­cedes from the fore­ground re­vealing the in­tricate con­tours of an older music. This is fiendishly hard music to play. Indeed, it made one wonder whether it might even be more dif­fi­cult in some ways than the timbral com­plex­ities and ex­tended tech­niques of the Lachenmann it pre­ceded. To en­sure a line sounds as one as it jour­neys through the ranks of players re­quires phe­nom­enal en­semble playing and, while the LSO’s players could not al­ways quite muster the unity this needs, they ac­quitted them­selves honourably.

Helmut LachenmannLachenmann’s Double (Grido II) is a work for string or­chestra premiered at the Lucerne Festival in 2005. It builds upon the frame­work of his Third String Quartet ‘Grido’ (2001), ex­panding ges­tures and thick­ening tex­tures, but ad­hering sur­pris­ingly closely to its chamber-sized model. Strangely, the in­creased forces lacked some of the phys­ical in­tensity that a string quartet can muster. The doub­lings present here tend to cancel out some of the more del­icate col­our­a­tions and bow po­s­i­tion vari­ations that are per­cept­ible when per­formed by a single in­stru­ment. Acoustically, the doub­ling of pitched sounds has a much greater ef­fect than the doub­ling of un­pitched sounds, weak­ening the im­pact and, at cer­tain points, the struc­tural im­port­ance of cer­tain un­pitched and ‘noise’ ele­ments, es­pe­cially the tearing waves of scratchtones that form a climax mid-way through the work. Certain pas­sages with min­imal pitch vari­ation, en­livened in the string quartet ver­sion by sub­tleties of sound, also seemed slightly aimless.

Perhaps it is foolish to com­pare the large with the small scale, but it seems dif­fi­cult to avoid. However, the above ex­cepted, this music has great beauty to offer and the LSO strings played it very well in­deed. Having com­menced work with Lachenmann in person in April, they demon­strated com­mit­ment, sens­it­ivity and un­der­standing of a piece riddled with mo­ments of acoustic bril­liance and in­vent­ive­ness, only the oc­ca­sional clatter of a hastily re­moved wooden mute dis­turbing the well-held at­mo­sphere. In his pro­gramme note Richard Steinitz in­dic­ated how shocking it is that this per­form­ance was the first of Lachenmann’s music by a British sym­phony or­chestra other than the BBC. For that to be the case — al­most 40 years after the premiere of his spec­tac­ular early or­ches­tral work Kontrakadenz and with more than a dozen other or­ches­tral, con­cer­tante and large en­semble works written since — is an un­for­tu­nate situ­ation, most of all for British audiences.

Maurizio Pollini. Photo Copyright © Mathias Bothor/DGThe con­cert ended with Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the evening’s mas­ter­mind, Maurizio Pollini, at the key­board. Pollini is a pi­anist of great del­icacy and re­straint — see, for ex­ample, this video of him playing Chopin in a manner quite un­der­stated yet af­fecting — and this was evid­enced in won­derful fili­greed mo­ments in the first move­ment, which he let flower ef­fort­lessly into weight­less clouds. Slight weak­ness of sound at times sug­gest that, at 68, Pollini’s best years may sadly be be­hind him, but des­pite that and a fair few scrappy corners, there was great in­tensity in his playing. The fi­nale was de­lightful, full of good hu­mour and even joy. Add to that the vigour with which the or­chestra ap­proached this more fa­miliar rep­er­toire and the result was far from unenjoyable.

The LSO thought­fully offer the pro­gramme notes for this con­cert for down­load here (PDF).

This entry was written by Chris, posted on Monday, 21 June 2010 at 11:28 pm, filed under Musings and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
  • Microbiography

    Chris Swithinbank is a British-Dutch com­poser who works with both acoustic in­stru­ments and elec­tronic sounds. He is cur­rently a stu­dent at Harvard University with Chaya Czernowin.
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