London Sinfonietta / Knussen, Queen Elizabeth Hall
By Keith Potter - 14 December 2006
There was music by Hans Werner Henze in both these concerts. Under Oliver Knussen, the London Sinfonietta offered Kammerkonzert 05, the latest of several revisions to his First Symphony of 1947. An awkward combination of Hindemithian earnestness, some rewardingly unforced lyricism and a little naughty avant-gardism for that post-Second-World-War fresh start, it makes a peculiarly ambiguous statement. But the slow second movement had Paul Silverthorne's solo viola nicely to the fore, and the Sinfonietta played vividly and intelligently.
Under Manfred Honeck, the BBC Symphony Orchestra offered Scorribanda sinfonica: a more extensive reworking of a "dance drama" that Henze wrote in 1956. With most of the original 1950s dance references removed, however, this retread relies mainly on some engaging, if dense, writing for large orchestra.
Fortunately, each of these concerts contained at least one much more stimulating musical experience. In the case of the London Sinfonietta, it was Mauricio Kagel's Kammersymphonie, which turned out to be an arrangement of his 1973 composition entitled 1898. The original is a sort of spoof reconstruction of early recorded sound, to celebrate the 75th birthday of the DG record company. This revision is more subtle in its quirkiness, but its lean and mean counterpoint still teems with inventive touches and occasional sheer craziness. I loved it.
London Sinfonietta/Knussen , Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Andrew Clements - Tuesday December 12, 2006
After a concert of Lachenmann two weeks ago, the London Sinfonietta turned its attention to the other senior figures in contemporary German music. Conducted by Oliver Knussen, the programme included UK premieres from Hans Werner Henze, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Mauricio Kagel (Argentinian-born, but a German resident for nearly half a century), made up of reworkings of existing pieces, recast or reorchestrated by their composers.
Henze's Kammerkonzert 05 was the most straightforward. An arrangement for 15 instruments of his 1947 First Symphony, it's a brittle, spidery work in which fractured neoclassicism jostles with the first stirrings of serial technique in the outer movements, and which then unwraps a luscious viola melody in the central Nocturne.
Stockhausen's Five Star Signs was more perplexing - ensemble expansions of five of the rambling, music box melodies of his 1974 Tierkreis, orchestrated in a strange, almost unidiomatic way, with odd voicings and balances that made no more sense on a second hearing.
Kagel's 1996 Kammersymphonie is more substantial, and intriguing. It began life as 1898, a piece for children's choir and instruments written in 1973 to mark the 75th anniversary of Deutsche Grammophon. In the reworking, it has been transformed into a study in instrumental doublings. The result is essentially a pair of massive two-part inventions, with pairs of musical lines winding through them and scored in such a way that the textures constantly change colour and density. The music is bewilderingly varied, sometimes stealthy and mysterious, sometimes brash and anarchic; it made the deepest impression in an unexpectedly amorphous programme.