Kerkour Procession in Remembrance (2010)
Salonen Pentatonic Étude (2010, rev. 2014)
Roxburgh Wordsworth Miniatures (1998)
Birtwistle Duets for Storab (1984)
Lachenmann Pression (1969)
Saunders Bite (2016)
NEXT [Leila Hooton, Rebecca Speller, Gavin Stuart (flutes), Emily Wilson (clarinets), Cameron Howe (viola), Carwyn Jones (cello)]
Wednesday 3 November 2021
Written by Richard Whitehouse
This evening’s concert by NEXT (musicians training as performers of contemporary music in a partnership between Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and Royal Birmingham Conservatoire) was to have featured Gérard Grisey’s penultimate work Vortex Temporum, but a player’s withdrawal after testing positive for Covid led to this alternative programme of solos and duos from the past half-century; one that, coming together as an effective and appealing recital in its own right, showed no sign of having been assembled at short notice.
The Anglo-Moroccan composer Brahim Kerkour is little heard in the UK, though Procession in Remembrance (the central piece in Three Modules for Sketches of Miniatures) suggests a continuation of spectral thinking (Kerkour studied with Tristan Murail) for the way alto flute and bass clarinet intertwined to create raptly translucent textures at once abstract yet tangible. Music to which Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Pentatonic Étude offered a notable foil – this paraphrase on a passage from Bartók’s unfinished Viola Concerto putting the solo instrument through its paces, before reclaiming the original in an understated apotheosis realized by Cameron Howe with due sensitivity. Hopefully a full-scale viola concerto by Salonen will yet be forthcoming.
Two sets of interdependent pieces came next. Edwin Roxburgh remains best known for larger-scale compositions, but Wordsworth Miniatures finds him no less adept when working on a more limited canvas – poems by the English author serving as the titles for these four deftly contrasted clarinet miniatures which Emily Wilson rendered with appropriately lyrical poise. Written while resident on the Inner Hebridean isle of Raasay, Harrison Birtwistle’s Duets for Storab draws its inspiration from three locations featuring the name of a Viking prince whose shipwreck, pursual and death are not so much portrayed as evoked by the six atmospheric and plaintive pieces with flautists Rebecca Speller and Leila Hooton in (mainly) whimsical accord.
Finally, to two more substantial and combative solo pieces which both conveyed the essence of their respective composers. Helmut Lachenmann’s Pression expounded a radical notion of ‘instrumental musique-concrète’ explored in later orchestral and chamber works – its utilizing cello as a means of sonic inclusiveness summoning a trenchant response from Carwyn Jones. Even more visceral in content, Bite finds Rebecca Saunders draws on the thirteenth and final prose from Beckett’s Texts for Nothing in this monologue for bass flute whose phonetic and syntactical elements are subsumed into a tensile continuum where anticipations and echoes merge freely or often forcefully – Gavin Stewart entering into its spirit with evident resolve.
Such a programme might not have seemed suited to the expanse of Coventry Cathedral, but the situating of musicians and listeners in a semi-circle adjacent to the entrance and at right-angles to the nave kept proceedings well within focus and allowed for the acoustic’s natural ambience to come through. Hopefully the Grisey can be rescheduled in due course, but the qualities of these pieces and their performances could not be gainsaid. Meanwhile, BCMG returns next Friday with a late-evening recital BCMG Nights in the foyer of Symphony Hall.
Further information on future BCMG and NEXT events can be found at the BCMG website