Thurmchen Ensemble * * * *
at the Barber Institute, Birmingham
Review by Christopher Morley
Congratulations to Birmingham University's music department for presenting such a challenging and rewarding programme of cutting-edge contemporary music, right at the Christmas-cluttered end of what has been a long term.
Its enterprise in doing just what such departments should be doing was rewarded by a decent-sized, receptive audience, responsive to the expertise and commitment of the Germany-based Thurmchen Ensemble.
These dedicated musicians rise thrillingly to the challenges posed by the composers under consideration, and introduce many new means of sound-production from their instruments.
I do worry, however, that more conventional means of articulation, with all their resources, are neglected in favour of experimentation, but the results are fascinating, beginning with the raspy, breathy sounds (Truike van der Poel the heroic vocalist) of the evening's director Erik O?a's Le sault perilleux, a wonderful fusion of medieval and post-modern.
Carola Bauckholt's Klarinettentrio explored magical timbres over a strong rhythmic subtext, and Salvatore Sciarrino's Due Smarrimenti produced subtle riches from a spectacular economy of material.
A rare foray into big gestures came with Funf Ohren by the Ensemble's cellist Caspar Johannes Walter, this setting of a Nietzsche poem conveying the sounds of a tortured inner ear in an almost late-Mahlerian expressionist fashion, and ending with a hauntingly Bergian added-sixth chord.
Receiving its world premiere, Force Fields by Birmingham professor Jonty Harrison proved a substantial, clearly-structured fusion of electro-acoustic sounds of arresting rhetoric and exciting textures, conveyed via a swarm of microphones on the stage and discreetly-arranged loudspeakers surrounding the auditorium.
I have to cavil, though, at the pretentious words spilled by these composers to explain their music. Shouldn't music be explaining itself?