Out Hear: works by Cassidy, Carter, Johnson, Dench, Finnissy, Barrett

Elision ensemble: Richard Haynes (clarinets) and Carl Rosman (voice and clarinets)

King's Place, 6 November 2009 4.5 stars

Richard HaynesElision Ensemble are frequent visitors to King's Place, but their concert at the venue this week was very different in personnel and content to all of their previous outings. Unusually but rewardingly, the concert was completely given over to the ensemble's two clarinettists, Richard Haynes and Carl Rosman (who doubled as vocal artist for Aaron Cassidy's piece).

The focus on clarinet proved a winning one; the instrument provides the composer with a very broad expressive palette. In assembling an eclectic programme of new and newish clarinet works, Elision conveyed well to the audience the suppleness of the instrument as contemporary sound source. The concert opened with Elliot Carter's Hiyoku. The work largely eschews the sort of spiky accents and form typical of the composer, in favour of the sort of dusk-laden, mysterious sonic beauty heard earlier in something like his Night Fantasies. Here the two clarinettists weaved a sensuous, shadowing interplay of sounds.

The elegance of the Carter was matched in their performance, on contrabass and bass instruments respectively, of Chris Dench's more robust (and dense) sum over histories. Based on the particle physicist Richard Feynman 'probabilistic' diagram of the behaviour of subatomic particles, 'sum over all possible histories', Dench constructs a simulated musical map of that behaviour which darts and weaves, resting coarsely on strapping bass gestures at frequent points. The players impressed a certain gravity on the audience which was all the more impressive given the esoteric modelling at the work's core. The architecture of the music, however esoteric its source, was tightly-conceived, full of local thrusts and framed by clear and convincing dynamic and structural judgments.

The first half closed with the premiere of Richard Barrett's Hypnerotomachia. The writing was some of the best I've heard from Barrett; clearly conceived in idea and structure, and rich in colour and gesture (the hairpin silences, breaths and multiphonics in the first section were bewilderingly choreographed, especially so by being channelled through Haynes and Rosman's deeply nimble hands and mouths), the piece convinced in every twist and turn of its cumulative course.

After the interval Rosman delivered a bravura performance of Aaron Cassidy's I, purples, spat blood, laugh of beautiful lips. As Cassidy explained in his (inimitably) lengthy and obscure programme notes, the piece takes three different vocal strata (Rimbaud's voyelles, an English translation, and Bök's Voile), and constructs a sort of dialectic on the idea of translation. Like Ignacio Agrimbau's (see link to review at bottom of page) The Humanist, the work posits a musical delineation of argument, of idea, based around the limits of language. Here, however, the structures of language remain largely intact, the interpallations of different languages rather than language itself being the object of investigation. Cassidy's piece uses a Max/msp patch to generate live pitch materials for the vocalist, but apart form these glissandos constantly weaving in the performer's ear, the technical requirements are of an emotional intensity rather than any speciality of technique required. Rosman's concentrated and passionate delivery of the dizzying, novelistic sound textures ensured the brief but potent work came off with flair.

Haynes' solo performance on e-flat clarinet of Michael Finnissy's often ferocious Marnngu was absolutely equal to the excitations of Rosman's vocal offerings. Hayne's pitching of the devilish high peaks of Finnissy's wonderful score were deeply impressive, whilst the vertiginous dynamic twists and spiked accents of the angry music were delivered with a deeply-felt, potent, vigour. The two musicians closed the concert with a performance of Evan Johnson's Apostrophe 1 that was nothing short of remarkable. Seated with backs to the audience and bass clarinets in hand, the two worked their way lovingly (but full of the sort of intelligent violence Johnson's music calls out for) through the lengthy fractures of the mutually catalysing, but then ultimately chaotic destructions, of the music. The writing is full of exploratory rhythmic markings and exaggerations of line and tone that in lesser (composerly) hands may come off as boorish, but here, in some obscure but beautiful communion with the reversed positions of the performers, it absolutely soared. The playing felt as if it had been going on since the beginning of time, slowly melting the core of sound until something concrete could be found, in total indifference to any sort of audience that might be listening. This genuine inwardness in the performance and the music made for the most bewitching of spectacles.

By Stephen Graham

Photo: Richard Haynes


Related articles:

Concert review: Elision Ensemble in Barrett, Redgate, Cassidy, and Dillon
Concert review: Exaudi in Agrimbau and other young composers at the Warehouse
Concert review: Elision Ensemble celebrate Ricordi at King's Place for This is Tuesday