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Mauricio Kagel Double Sextet London premiere
Silvina Milstein Tigres Azules world premiere
Augusta Read Thomas In My Sky at Twilight - Songs of Passion and Love UK premiere
Elliott Carter Dialogues world premiere
London Sinfonietta/Oliver Knussen
Claire Booth - soprano
Nicolas Hodges -piano
Queen Elizabeth Hall, London. 23 January

A dense programme, well attended to celebrate 95 yr-old Elliott Carter's vitality in his "Indian fall" (he said his Indian summer had been going on far too long!). Kagel's piece sounded dour, clotted and confusing from the middle of the hall, and Milstein's dazzling and exotic orchestration, inspired by a Borges fancy about blue tigers, which actually were pebbles, would be easier to take in with more clarity; I look forward to comparing the R3 broadcast on 7 February.

Moved at the interval to a good spot at the side of the Terrace Stalls, Augusta Read Thomas's luscious songs on the subject of love which spans the chasm of death", In My Sky at Twilight, were captivating. Her selected poetry spans an ancient Egyptian love lyric, through Greek poets Sappho and Pindar, Victorians Hopkins and Browning, and into the modern verse of e.e. cummings and Neruda. Read Thomas seems to have a love affair with the lyric soprano voice akin to Strauss, and it suited Claire Booth to a tee, one of the finest achievements of a rising star. In My Sky at Twilight is recorded by Boulez with the work's dedicatee Christine Brandes on ART2002.

Carter's new and lighter piano concerto has been acclaimed. At 95 he finds composing quick and easy having refined a vocabulary which he can deploy effortlessly, lucky man. It is vivacious in terms of rhythm and instrumental colouring and a great virtuoso gift in which Nicolas Hodges revelled. But I cannot understand or feel why the particular notes are written as and where they are?

In The Times we are assured that "a core group of rhythms and harmonies supplies all the work's needs". Perhaps a demonstration of that would have been even more illuminating than the pleasant but superficial introductory talks with three of the composers?

Augusta Read Thomas has released a new CD with an orchestral work "...Words of the Sea...," featuring the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Pierre Boulez; a seventeen minute title work, which was premiered by the CSO in December 1, 1996, and it is coupled with In My Sky at Twilight" (the same highly recommendable performance as noted above).

The recording of the orchestral work is probably of its premiere; that is not made quite clear in Seth Brodsky's extravagant and 'poetic' notes, which presumably have the composer's approval. He explains that Thomas's cycle "absorbs all its texts at once" and it took quite some time to become clear that the Wallace Stevens poem printed was not actually going to be sung for us! A pleasant listen, but the music does not seem to really bear the weight of significance placed on it, and Thomas seems to enjoy the brilliance of the Chicago brass a little too much? It is a well produced CD, definitely worth hearing, but I won't be canvassing for a UK performance of Words of the Sea. PGW

© Peter Grahame Woolf