Monday, 10 November 2008

London Sinfonietta play Stockhausen - Southbank Centre 08/11/08

First up is 'three songs for alto voice and chamber orchestra', which commences once the giant conductor Oliver Knussen heaves his way onto the stage. The three pieces are constantly at odds with themselves, jerking and flowing, evoking an air of dread one moment and goofy frolics the next. The effect is enhanced by the alto whose resolutely no nonsense voice is offset by her zany facial contortions, all inquisitive and laughing and frighteningly stern as if in the throes of a particularly strong microdot experiment. She looks so confused whilst perfectly fronting the sinfonietta you imagine she might have been bestowed with this incredible vocal power minutes before being thrust on to the stage. Perhaps it comes from the magnificent green velvet dress she's stuffed her toad-like german bosom into, like the singing equivalent of football's Billy's boots.

In fact much of the enjoyment is garnered from watching the various personalities evident within the Sinfonietta, an activity at least as entertaining as the music itself. The nimble fingertips of the hulking conductor and the intense concentration of the barely used xylophonist are two particular highlights, and so it is that when the second section is presented, completely pre-recorded, with the lights out and nothing but the suggestion of a full moon (one spotlight) left on stage, that events become significantly less delightful. 'Urantia' is a great swirling mass of electronically manipulated string sounds with a lone soprano emitting drone notes over the top as it all gets panned around in glorious surround sound in the dark. The result is nausea, plain and simple, followed by a sense of admiration for the effectiveness and tenacity of the piece, followed by a premature desire for the interval. It comes eventually.

For the last section a different iteration of the Sinfonietta appears on stage, sans German lung muscle, and play (for the first time in the UK!) 'Zodiac', which is fine and dandy and suddenly becomes elevated to highlight of the night status when from out of nowhere (stage left) a ruddled man appears with a tuba and deep farts in the silence. The tubby tubist then proceeds to plod about the stage, stopping intermittently to deliver another preposterous pomp, much to the crowd's amusement. After a circuit he's done, he bows, he leaves and the Sinfonietta finish off the piece.

A pleasant, if somewhat accidentally amusing, evening.

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