Concert Review

The Cutting Edge: Rebecca Saunders - Portrait Topologies BMIC at The Warehouse, London, Thursday 28 September (RW)

The Cutting Edge: Rebecca Saunders - Portrait Topologies
(Guy Cowley, clarinet; Darragh Morgan, violin; Michael Cameron, double bass; Ian Pace, piano; Neil Varley, accordion; Mikel Toms,conductor) BMIC at The Warehouse, London, Thursday 28 September (RW)

The Cutting Edge was a bold initiative launched last autumn by the British Music Information Centre, utilising the admirable acoustic of The Warehouse, near Waterloo station. Pre-concert wine was free to those arriving in time, and the availability of a programme covering all 12 concerts is an encouraging move. For the opening concert of the new season, a programme was assembled around the music of Rebecca Saunders. London-born and currently Berlin-based, Saunders continues the line of European modernist thinking, in which sound is a self-contained and self-sufficient medium, malleable in an almost sculptural sense. 1996's Duo demonstrated this with its incisive gestures, cross-cut between violin and piano; both players recognising their wilful separateness over the course of its 13 minute span. Two earlier, shorter pieces, less extreme in profile, employed similar means. Mirror, mirror, on the wall, for solo piano, dwelt equivocally on the fragmented nature of its material. The Underside of Green drew a continuity of response from the potentially divisive combination of clarinet, violin and piano; the coherence wrought from this conflict of voices a parallel, perhaps, to Molly Bloom's closing dialogue in Ulysses, which inspired the piece.

In a brief interval talk, Saunders spoke of her recent Quartet as marking a move towards a more sustained, even integrated manner of composition. Certainly this work, which ended the concert, sought out the sonic similarities in its contrasted instrumentation (clarinet, double bass, piano and accordion), with even a sense of resolution to the intricate cross-play of the second section. It is uningratiating, but pungent, thought-provoking music, which bodes well for the Double Concerto due to be premiered next year.

Saunders had chosen three other works with which to set her music in context. Kaija Saariaho's Folia was a study in fine-grained timbrel shadings for double bass; music which pulses with inner activity. Galina Ustvolskaya's Sixth Piano Sonata is anything but subtle, but a powerful expression arises from its relentlessness. As her Trio for clarinet, violin and piano of 1949 proved, the 30 year old composer was never in the Soviet mould: its searching chromaticism and aching melodic lines no doubt prompting a love-hate reaction on the part of her former teacher Shostakovich, whose quoting of the finale's clarinet theme in his Fifth Quartet was the only public intimation of the Trio's existence for 25 years.

Dedicated performances from Topologies, another venture from the redoubtable Ian Pace, conveyed the seriousness and intensity of the programme in full measure. Clearly for the next three months, 'the cutting edge' is where to be.

Richard Whitehouse

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