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4 December 2008

Elision Ensemble in London

Liza Lim Image: Liza Lim  
© Michael Watson

Musicologist and performer Michael Hooper recently went to the Ricordi: Beyond 200 concert in London, and came out wanting to share his impressions with the rest of the world. Resonate publishes his thoughts on Liza Lim's music and Richard Haynes's virtuosity, along with a number links to media coverage of Elision Ensemble's concert in London.

One needs some substantial musical nourishment now and then, and the other night I gorged on Elision's contribution to Ricordi's 200th birthday. My indulgence was justified by the two-week fast (save a performance of Thomas Simaku's fantastic new piece for solo recorder) since I had heard Mark Knoop and Carl Rosman perform in a concert that was reviewed in last weekend's Sunday Times:

'But to track developments in contemporary British music, the place to be is The Warehouse, near the South Bank, on Thursdays, where BMIC (British Music Information Centre) puts on its Cutting Edge concerts. There I caught one of the most brilliant pianists of the contemporary repertoire, Mark Knoop, accompany the astounding clarinettist Carl Rosman in Michael Finnissy's strange and imperturbable Clarinet Sonata (2007), which takes reversed phrases from Beethoven's Op 110 Piano Sonata as a thread with which to embroider itself.'

Libra Duo also performed Enno Poppe (about whom England is currently, and quite rightly!, obsessed), Richard Barrett (some rather lovely two-part counterpoint for solo clarinet being the highlight), Jonathan Harvey, Adam de la Cour, Martin Butler and Andrew Digby. Australia doesn't entirely miss out and will hear Knoop with Libra next February at the opening of the Melbourne Recital Centre. It's a book-tickets-now kind of event.

Elision were at their most economical, with only four performers and mostly solo works. The program (Franco Donatoni, Salvatore Sciarrino, Enno Poppe, Liza Lim) opened with Lim's Wild Winged-One (2007), for solo trumpet. It was performed by Tristram Williams who, appropriately, had flown in for the event. Also by Lim was Inguz (1996), for cello and clarinet, and Sonorous Body (2008), for solo clarinet. I am very fond of early Lim and of Inguz in particular, though it was Sonorous Body that thoroughly caught my attention. Partly this was because of Richard Haynes's playing, which was ever so slightly breathy in just the right way, as well as resonant and extraordinarily detailed. It's also the kind of piece that constantly exceeds one's expectations. There is little surprise that the composition is, from its first moments, virtuosic. There is something truly wonderful about some of the climaxes of virtuosity when, for example, Haynes reaches a beautifully tense multiphonic that sounds all the world like it is about to transform into a flourish of trills; instead it lingers, continuing as Haynes (such is the quality of his circular breathing) takes a breath. It's a moment of the kind of sonorous paradox for which Lim is loved, and which can only occur at the hands (tongue, lips, lungs, body...) of the best performers.

The other pieces, too, were expertly performed, and since I have lavished praise on Haynes and Williams I ought to mention Graeme Jennings, particularly for Sei Capricci, which, composed in 1976, was Elision's nod to standard repertoire. Jennings has the kind of technique that is so at ease that one easily forgets he is playing super-speedy flourishes of exquisite artificial harmonics. Séverine Ballon was the cellist for Inguz and the Poppe, her performance of which is enough to make one gladly obsessed.

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Michael Hooper is a performer and musicologist. As a mandolinist, he specialises in the performance of the instrument’s recent repertoire and is active in commissioning new works. As a musicologist, his PhD at The University of York considered the music of Britain in the 1960s and '70s, and specifically the Australian-born, but long-time English resident, David Lumsdaine.


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