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Gerald Barry in focus

Gerald Barry Wiener Blut; Handel's Favourite Song; Lisbon (uk premiere)
Michael Finnissy Alongside
Ian Vine ocre oscuro (world premiere)

London Sinfonietta/Richard Baker
Mark van de Wiel (clarinet)
Clive Williamson (piano)

BBC Radio 3 Hear and Now Studio Concert 8 May, Jerwood Hall, LSO St Luke's, London
(Recorded for broadcasting on 2 June at 10.30 p.m.)

Attractive in prospect was the opportunity to hear three works by Gerald Barry, something of a maverick and a composer who has given us pleasure (and many a smile) over the years*. The more so because St Luke's is one of the very pleasantest music venues in London.

But tonight's turned out to be a very esoteric occasion; enjoyed - it must be said - by a large audience of new music afficionados - people who appear to have not trouble with musics which, despite best efforts, we find incomprehensible and - sometimes - repugnant.

Finnissy's 1979 piece was one such - "linked by a simple system of numerical chains - - with three archetypes in heterophonic juxtaposition - - essentially simple and easily recognisable". Maybe... Listen in to R3's contemporary music ghetto spot on June 2nd and tell Musical Pointers whether you agree? **

Ian Vine's "oscuro" music had busy material for solo violin (loud) with over-layering (quiet) by a mixed ensemble. In fact, it was under-layering, with the ensemble never reaching the domination anticipated and which might have made the whole more satisfying.

Barry takes all material, high or low, as grist for his mill, and his instrumentation can be relied upon to be unpredictable and quirky. Wiener Blut has reminders of Barry's musical past, diary entries to jolt memory. A lot of unison winds, forthright and loud, with unexpected twists.

[I thought how well it would go for contemporary dance instead of spoiling baroque favourites with excessive amplification for supposed impact - q.v. our review of Transitions Dance Company earlier this week.]

Barry's recomposition of Cara Sposa from Rinaldo had the solo clarinet nearly drowned by the wind-dominated band; it'll be properly balanced for the broadcast no doubt, but in the live situation trumpet and clarinet would better have swapped places...

(composed for Amsterdam and Madrid) began with some intriguing patterns, but came to temporary halts with two phrases for piano soloist which were repeated not twice, thrice or four times, but uncountably many times for no comprehensible purpose - one of them with ff clusters that seemed to risk injury to Clive Williamson's hands.

Nothing tonight to compare with Gerald Barry's earlier music or with his operas.

On the way from Old Street Station we heard two Americans in discussion, saying they didn't like the contemporary music scene here: "so parochial, too nationalistic, all British composers and a few expensive Europeans - - ".

Not quite fair, perhaps, but it does reflect a recognisable bias, and maybe a change since the early days of London Sinfonietta, with their recent concerts "increasingly being conceived as the centrepiece of a cluster of related projects and events in both educational and performance contexts, giving a platform for artistic work inspired by the ensemble’s repertoire with a priority of taking the best of British music to venues and festivals worldwide".

Critics were at LSO St Luke's in force, and I look forward to learning from their descriptions of the evening.

Peter Grahame Woolf

*For Gerald Barry, see our in-depth reports on The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant and also an illuminating earlier profile by Ivan Hewett, who introduced the concert briefly at St Luke's, and will do so for the R3 broadcast. Barry told Hewett: - - "I don't go to many new music concerts,I find them so boring. There's no sense of something really inspiring or necessary." He had studied with both Stockhausen, from whom he took the idea that music could be all foreground; and Kagel from whom Barry took the notion that music and theatre could blend into one via the shared territory of absurdism.

**We are not consistently hostile to Finnissy's music, having reviewed enthusiastically e.g. the premiere of his expansive Mahlerian String Trio, and recently This Church.

Nor can we afford to turn our backs upon London Sinfonietta after a couple of disappointing experiences!
Their next London Sinfonietta concerts at QEH wll offer an exciting mix of Ligeti revivals (his hilarious Aventures and Nouvelles Aventures), Reich and a Turnage premiere.