Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Lachenmann & Rossini

Helmut Lachenmann Weekend, Southbank Centre
23-24 October 2010


During a Lachenmann weekend on South Bank, we were refreshed half way through by a concert performance of a rare Rossini opera, as total a contrast as imaginable!

We have followed Helmut Lachenmann intermittently over the years from Huddersfield, via Lucerne to London's Royal College of Music (a great little festival which finished in South Bank Centre) and now he was there again for a weekend in which we had grandiose works for symphony orchestra (augmented London Sinfonietta) and a lot of talking on the way.

The Lachenmann events culminated with an extravagant concert by the augmented London Sinfonietta at the Royal Festival Hall, recorded for subsequent dissemination, when and by whom we were not told.

Attendances were moderate, but considerable enthusiasm was shown for this composer's radical deconstruction of standard instruments and how they can be played, and his complete eschewal of classical and contemporary modes of organisation.

Lachenmann is more interested in the sounds - noises - that classical musicians are trained to avoid, and he takes to extremes on centre stage what some others have incorporated as extended sounds (e.g. Rzewski at the piano). There is a political sub-stratum, "contra-bourgeois", but this is rather thin in practice; the London audience sat in conventional rows, silent throughout (necessarily, as some of the music was so very quiet - 1st string quartet, and especially a wisp of violin "Toccatina" - as to be suitable really only for a seminar situation in a small, well sound-proofed college studio).

No riots; the audience applauded politely, leaving any doubts for private conversation afterwards... Critical reaction from South Bank was generally positive, and a Google search will bring you a range of appreciations of this weekend.

Best of all was an admirable full-length film, made by Bettina Ehrhardt, of Lachenmann as Lucerne's composer in residence 2005 - we were there at the same time. It was lucid and sympathetic, and benefitted from the composer speaking in his own language, with sub-titles; seen by too few in the Purcell Room.

My own feeling is that Lachenmann's pieces make their best, challenging effect at first hearing. Most interesting was a thirty-minute (a few too many?) vocal tour-de-force for Sarah Leonard, derived from Lachenmann's Match Girl "opera"; a virtuoso display of extended vocal techniques (including body-percussion) with fragmented texts - supplied, but hard to follow. Rolf Hind contributed at and inside the piano, as he did in the final "symphony concert".

I found myself less engrossed by Lachenmann's music that I had heard once or several times before; Pression for solo cello was expertly presented by Oliver Coates, but to nowhere near the effect that Gabriella Swallow had made at the Royal College of Music.






Catriona Smith - Zenobia; Silvia Tro Santafé - Arsace
Kenneth Tarver - Aureliano; Andrew Foster-Williams - Gran Sacerdote
Vuyani Mlinde - Licinio; Ezgi Kutlu - Publia
Geoffrey Mitchell Choir; London Philharmonic Orchestra/Maurizio Benini;
Royal Festival Hall 23 October 2010

We were refreshed mid-Lachenmann by a breath of Rossini; Opera Rara's latest recording of rare and forgotten belcanto operas just completed, and showcased for a packed Royal Festival Hall on the Saturday evening. The concert performance was dedicated to the memory of Dame Joan Sutherland.

Aurelia in Palmira, an early Rossini opera-seria, got off to a great, and very familiar, start ! We discovered later that its Overture was later re-cycled twice by the resourceful composer, finally for The Barber of Seville !

Superbly prepared and conducted by Maurizio Benini, the cast was headed by Silvia Tro Santafé [R] and Kenneth Tarver, both magnificent and easily dominating the orchestra on stage; the Geoffrey Mitchell Choir and London Philharmonic Orchestra distinguished themselves.

Catriona Smith, a late replacement as the Empress Zenobia, sang well but was a little under-parted for her very dramatic role; partly so, we thought, by limitations in the music Rossini provided for her.

Not a neglected masterwork, but a worthy addition to Opera Rara's forty year dedication to the cause, supported all the way by the Peter Moores Foundation and other benefactors.

A great evening even if Aurelia in Palmira is an opera not in the highest bracket.

Peter Grahame Woolf

See other reviews of Aurelia in Palmira:



And for newcomers to Helmut Lachenmann a few links may be helpful :


"Lachenmann is the godfather of extended performance techniques"

http://www.telegraph/Lachenmann-Focus "as puzzling a musical experience as you'll ever encounter"