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Tristan Murail
Time and Again;
...amaribus et dulcis aquis...;
Terre d'ombre

BBC Symphony Orchestra/ BBC Singers/Pascal Rophe/James Morgan conductors

Barbican Hall 7 February 2009

We were only invited to review the final concert of this Total Immersion day, but caught the evening foyer pre-concert by Guildhall Ensemble students and some members of the BBC Orchestra directed by Pierre-André Valade. This event showcased student compositions related to Murail's spectralist way, and showed how today's young musicians can cope with the complications of contemporary music with impressive aplomb.

The main concert (only the lower floor was open, and that not filled) was an unusual experience, Murail's music eschewing tune and counterpoint, we were warned, in reaction against earlier methods and, particularly, Boulez's faith in serialism, so that our ears were engaged with sound and its colours, live orchestra augmented with electronics.

The learned programme notes were little real help and one listened in a trusting way to exotic sounds, some of which (Terre d'ombre) paraphrased Scriabin's Prometheus, so we were told; what a pity that rarity was not programmed for comparison...

The BBC Chorus, who are beyond fear, were not quite so persuasive in ...amaribus et dulcis aquis... as with Stockhausen last month; it was hard to follow their words in front of us as set by Murail (about 12th C pilgrimage to Compostela).

Paradoxically, I found myself more responsive to the music next morning, hearing a recording of the ghettoed transmission of the concert, and part of an earlier one, on BBC's late night Hear & Now. [It is available on BBC3 Listen Again until Friday]

But generalists should tread with caution, and I prefer to defer to my part-namesake, Musical Criticism's contemporary music editor Stephen Graham, though you too may be floored by formulations such as 'periodically stunning ekphrasis'...

Peter Grahame Woolf

See also "Total Immersion in Stockhausen" covered by two of our contemporary music specialists [Editor].