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Libra at St Giles
St Giles Cripplegate London
Monday 28 March 2005

Kathleen Gallagher, flute
Carl Rosman, clarinet
Mark Knoop, piano

Pierre Boulez - Douze Notations (1945/85); Sonatine (1946); Domaines (1968)
Elliott Carter - Esprit rude, esprit doux (1985)
Michael Finnissy - Sikangnuqa (1979)
James Clarke - trio (1988)
Richard Emsley - Still/s 10 * (2004)
Dominik Karski - inward * (2004)
Richard Barrett - what remains (1990-91)
* premiere performance


On Easter Monday three dedicated virtuosi, representing Australia 's new music ensemble but domiciled presently in San Diego, Cologne and London, came together and presented a concert of high modernism in church to a faithful few. The programme was of elegant symmetry, and the evening proved worth while for their excellent accounts of early Boulez and pieces by Carter and Finnissy from the '70s & '80s.


Few listeners can expect to enjoy every item in such a concert. To dispose first of the most pretentious and worst (to these elderly ears), the event was framed by trios from Polish-born Australian Dominik Karski and Brit Richard Barrett , both of daunting complexity, music which swirls around like a river breaking its banks in flood spate. Karski's assault employed the ultimate weapon of a screeching laser-like piccolo. James Clarke's trio was less abrasive and ended with sparer duos for bass clarinet/piano, bass flute/piano, and finally bass flute/bass clarinet.


For extremist contrast, Richard Emsley's Still/s 10 was as minimal as you can get, a slow, quiet meditation upon a single note for flute and piano, part of a 24-piece project originating from White Paintings for Composition by Joan Key, and moving towards Beckettian "whiteness, absence, stillness and silence". It felt much longer than its scheduled six minutes and brought to mind Giacinto Scelsi's fruitful discovery of the inner life of a single note, which he played obsessively (as he demonstrated to me in Rome) during a spell of psychiatric hospitalisation, for hours and hours day after day. Still/s 10 is not to my impatient taste, and was a caution against representing composers by single works in concerts; c.p. my review of Metier's admirable CD of haunting, and quite different, music by Richard Emsley.


The less unfamiliar works of Boulez and Carter were greatly rewarding in these carefully prepared performances. Mark Knoop is a fine, fluent pianist and was a tower of strength throughout a demanding evening; his account of Boulez's aphoristic Notations was scrupulously executed. Carl Rosman gave us an object lesson in expressively nuanced clarinet playing in the lengthy unaccompanied Domaines, which did not outstay its welcome at all. Kathleen Gallagher was musically persuasive in her phrasing of the Sonatine and in Finnissy's Sikangnuqa she poured out a miraculous flow of arabesques, holding concentration through the notated pauses, and duetting with her own voice towards the end, representing the Hopi myth of the entry of the breath of life into humanity.


The acoustics of St Giles are not the easiest, nor was the piano one of Steinway's best. I hope to have an opportunity to revisit this challenging programme and listen to the state-of-the-art recording which was being made using some eight microphones, four of them under the piano's lid. Perhaps by re-hearing all will become clear...

© Peter Grahame Woolf