By Andrew Clements
From the Guardian - Friday June 2, 2006
There are many who admire Alban Berg's music yet still find his Chamber Concerto a hard nut to crack. Perhaps because it is the most Schoenbergian of all his pieces - it was Berg's tribute to his teacher on his 50th birthday - it can seem harder going and less expressively rewarding than pieces like Wozzeck, the Lyric Suite or the Violin Concerto. But Oliver Knussen thrives on such challenges. His account of the Chamber Concerto with violinist Clio Gould and pianist Nicolas Hodges as the superb soloists, and the wind players of the London Sinfonietta providing the accompanying ensemble, made perfect, compelling sense, even when he played the rarely observed repeat in the finale, and everyone also had to contend with mysterious loud thumps emanating from the hall's PA system during the performance.
Knussen had first conducted the premieres of two works from younger British composers, both fluent and one strikingly original. Kenneth Hesketh's Detail From the Record was effectively a quarter-hour sampler for a work-in-progress, a puppet ballet based on Japanese folk tales. The four extracts woven into a single musical span are finished in a thoughtfully exquisite, almost Ravel-like way, while the transparency of the scoring recalls a piece like Mother Goose, but the music itself has no distinctive or memorable character, just a sheen of craftmanship in need of the puppet scenario to give it purpose and meaning.
Luke Bedford's Or Voit Tout En Aventure, though, proclaimed its individuality from the very first moment, setting a sequence of texts from medieval French and Italian songs, but stripping them of their original music and interleaving them to produce a carefully woven tapestry of meditation on musical communcation. The writing for soprano Claire Booth veers between declamation and decoration, while the ensemble sometimes just colours the vocal lines but also goes off on tangents full of wonderfully original instrumental doublings and vivid shards of melody. It's startling stuff - music that's never quite what you expect.