S&H Concert Review

HENZE Voices London Sinfonietta/Knussen with Fiona Kimm (mezzo) & Christopher Gillett (tenor). Film (Purcell Room) & Concert (Queen Elizabeth Hall) 10 March 2001 (PGW)

This evening launched an extensive celebration at South Bank Centre of Henze's 75th birthday, with events through to April (www.rfh.org.uk/henze).

Voices is one of his characteristic 'protest' works of the '70s, a time when he was vigorously engaged politically. In a very successful new 20 mins film about the work by Deborah May, the composer was introduced by a (totally self effacing) Gillian Moore, and he emphasised the importance of words and their meanings as crucial for reaching deeper feelings in his listeners. This is a full-length eclectic collection of 22 texts in various languages and - mercifully - for once the hall was not darkened, so we were able to follow the original words and translations during the concert. Mostly they are memorialising dreadful happenings and circumstances, with some celebrating the mutual support of sufferers. The last is a Carnival of Flowers, signifying the beauty and possibilities of hope through catastrophe in a ravaged world, regrettably no less pertinent thirty years on, but also a testimony to the limited capacity for change that can be expected from artistic political statements by poets and musicians.

The music of Voices alludes to folk, classical lied, jazz and cabaret style music theatre, with a proportion of aleatoric writing. To my ears there were, during the two hours (including an interval) more intriguing sound combinations to recall than musical substance. Christopher Gillett was notably successful in putting over his items; Fiona Kimm (a late replacement for Alison Wells) a little less so. The whole was given with customary precision by London Sinfonietta, for whom it had been composed, and expertly conducted by Oliver Knussen, with the sound balance carefully managed by Ian Dearden to great effect.

The best reason for Seeing & Hearing Voices complete and live is the elaborate orchestration, which requires uncommon versatility, every participant required to double on other instruments and some to sing as well. This made a grand picture on stage, with an array of exotica and continual rearrangements of the ensemble of only 14 players. There were wine glasses, balloons and a variety of uncommon percussion instruments to be tackled. Violinist Heleen Hulst (correct spelling, I hope?) appeared to enjoy playing the mandolin and Christopher Gillett clearly relished banging a pair of large cymbals. I hope they all got paid double!

Peter Grahame Woolf

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