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Latest Reviews

Read some of our highlighted reviews from our latest concerts.

London Sinfonietta/ Fischer review - Geoff Brown, The Times ★★★★

Wednesday was the first of two London Sinfonietta events labelled “Sound Across a Century”, but was this actually a concert or an adult education course? At times, when the Oxford professor Jonathan Cross popped up, giving voice to much of what was already indicated in the programme note, you couldn’t deny that sapping lecture-hall feeling. Tension was lost, electricity lowered. Luckily, full power was restored when the Sinfonietta, elegantly conducted by Thierry Fischer, took wing, blowing, scraping, bubbling and sighing through selected samples from 100 years of contemporary music.

The thread being followed, a valuable one, was the texture and colours of musical sounds and their inner workings. Benno Sachs’s 1920 chamber arrangement of Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune started us off, its generally pellucid lines gummed up by blobs of impasto from piano and harmonium. Varèse’s 1924 Octandre then jumped out, shrieking and angular, dashed off with brutal aplomb by seven fierce wind and brass players and one emollient double bass.

For the rest, we were in the realm of spectral music, first explored in the 1970s by French composers teasing out the innards of sounds with computer technology and acoustical analysis. Compared with the works he composed later, Gérard Grisey’s pioneering Périodes was unappetising gruel, although with glimpses of the magic to come. Meatier specimens arrived with Kaija Saariaho’s Oi Kuu, in which a bass clarinet and a cello had an “odd couple” romance, and the shimmering colours of Concordanza by Sofia Gubaidulina.

Both, however, were put in the shade by the dizzying, sensuous and joyful panache of Jonathan Harvey’s Sringara Chaconne, music of spiritual purpose but still with a human face. Listening to the Sinfonietta’s nimble and effervescent performance, all doubts faded. This was a concert, proper and glorious.

See the Review here.

Sinfonietta/Fischer review – mystery and awe, from Debussy to Harvey – Tim Ashely, The Guardian ★★★★

The London Sinfonietta’s Sound Across a Century is a two-part set of lecture-concerts, presented by the musicologist Jonathan Cross, exploring the modernist musical revolutions of the 20th century. The second concert will take Schoenbergian atonality as its starting point, but here Cross and conductor Thierry Fischer began with Debussy’s Prélude à l’Après-Midi d’un Faune, examining its influence on instrumental colour and sonority in composers as far apart as Gérard Grisey, Kaija Saariaho, Sofia Gubaidulina and Jonathan Harvey.

The Sinfonietta, of course, play this repertory wonderfully well, though Faune was given in a chamber version prepared by Benno Sachs in 1920 for Schoenberg’s Society for Private Musical Performances in Vienna, which to some extent robbed it of its sensuality. Varèse’s Octandre, with its liberating dissonances and combative dialogues between brass and woodwind, hit home with considerable force. Debussy and Varèse are widely regarded as influencing Grisey’s spectralist Périodes from 1974, its shifting textures beautifully explored here.

Cross reminded us that spectral music, with its emphasis on harmonic overtones and the acoustic properties of sound, can create qualities of transcendental mystery and awe, and the second half of the evening was given over to composers for whom spirituality is paramount. Saariaho’s Oi Kuu (To the Moon) for bass clarinet (Timothy Lines) and cello (Lionel Handy) sounded exquisitely eerie. Gubaidulina’s Concordanza seemed to gaze heavenwards in its search for tremulous glimpses of numinosity, while Harvey’s astonishing Sringara Chaconne, rooted in Buddhist spirituality, unfolded like the repetitions of a mantra, contemplating the unity of the cosmos in the sensuous immediacy of sound.

See the full review here.

Published: 28 Feb 2020