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Thursday, 25 February 2016

Ensemble intercontemporain review review

I read for a laugh a review in the Times signed  ‘Richard Morrison’, presumably a nom de honte, since no-one would put their real name to the pretentious twaddle preceding it. Here, in breach of goodness knows how many copyright laws, is the article with my commentary…

‘There was something mournfully symbolic [writes Richard] about the first London appearance of the Ensemble intercontemporain since the death last month of Pierre Boulez, who launched it forty years ago.’ How wonderfully farsighted old Pierre was, to have launched this London appearance of the Ensemble forty years in advance- an unprecedented degree of notice for a musical concert. Even my arena-busting  ‘Ms Streisland and the Three Tenors’ was conceived, planned and sold-out less than a year beforehand. I had the four of them at the chateau for rehearsals, and a right mess she left in the toilet. Where was I… oh yes…
‘Not a whiff of homage crept into the programme.’ One should imagine not. A creeping whiff would be an exceptionally rare phenomenon.
‘Boulez had no time for sentimentality and was scathing about musicians who based their interpretations  on extra-musical considerations’. True. Old Boulez I knew well. Many was the time he and I would pass the hours in some small cafĂ©, he hunched over an early-morning absinthe, tearfully lamenting the inability of your contemporary musician to strike just the right level of musicality. "Essay mon cher brave," he would appeal, peering at me earnestly through the greasy and dandruff-strewn lenses of his lunettes, "why are the musicians of today always so under-musical or so over-musical? I don’t understand this… this.. how you say extra-musicality."
‘Posthumously he is reaping what he sowed.’  Posthumous reaping! There’s your answer to the farm labour shortage. Get the long-dead peasants back to do it.
‘The Ensemble intercontemporain, it seems, adopts the same stance.’ That was old Boulet's influence again. Damned odd he thought it would look if each member of an ensemble stood in a markedly different way. A most disturbing impact on the conceptual integrity of the performance. He insisted on his player's adopting identical stances throughout each piece to reinforce the extra-musical consonance.
‘ I could admire this icy objectivity if it wasn’t also applied to music that cries out for emotion, or at least some sign of engagement.’ Firstly note the music is crying ‘out’- an excellent clarification, lest you had mistakenly supposed it was crying in. And it is wonderful to learn that while the music cries out for emotion it could actually be persuaded to settle instead for an arbitrarily small sign of engagement.
‘The concert was confined to pieces for two pianos, sometimes also with percussionists.’ Here we see the tragic effect of the premature streaming into arts or sciences  of the pupils in our schools. Had Richard been able to study mathematics alongside his A-levels in clichĂ© and poor syntax he might have learned that the properties of a set can be confined to X or they can include X and Y; they cannot be confined to X and sometimes include Y.
‘Debussy’s En Blanc et Noir for two pianos was the chief casualty.’ Another excellent clarification, lest you imagined, in this concert confined to pieces for two pianos, a whole orchestra is on the go. And re-assuring to read that the casualties at this concert were not leaderless.
‘Written in 1915, it speaks of loss on the battlefield and the clash of civilisations- at least to my ears.’ It would be a stern critic indeed who would demand Debussy's composition speak to any of Richard’s other organs of sense, so we can’t really fault the music for speaking to Richard's ears alone.
‘The dark energies of Bartok’s stupendous Sonata for two pianos and percussion are harder to subdue, and the performance was admirably cogent.’ What do we make of the plural energies? Perhaps the energy of the one piano and the energy of the other piano. Or perhaps the energy of the pianos and the energy of the percussion. Or maybe the energy of one piano plus the energy of the other piano plus the energy of the percussion. You see- that’s what happens when you set these pieces for more than one instrument- total confusion.
‘Yet even here the slow movement’s dancing fervour was politely subdued.’ Generous feet, sorry, no mean feat with all those hard to subdue dark energies.
‘The biggest disappointment, however…’ The courteous ‘however’ forewarns us that notwithstanding the big disappointment of the Ensemble's icy indifference to the music's crying out for even a tiny bit of engagement, and the big disappointment of the hard-won subduement of the darkly energetic dancing fervour of the slow movement, an even bigger disappointment is on its way.
‘… was Edler-Copes’s (sic) ‘Presence’, derived, it seemed, from type-writer rhythms repeated endlessly’.  To be fair to Edler-Copes, who was once a pupil of mine, the derivation of a work from endlessly repeated  type-writer rhythms is far from straightforward, not to say infinitely time-consuming.  I understand he’s still hoping for them to stop.

Connoisseurs of literary humour the world over: We know how he feels.

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