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Music un-compressed, non-YouTubed

Greg Hooper: Kupka’s Piano, Modern Music in Exile


Kupka’s Piano Kupka’s Piano
photo Liam Flenady
We’re in a low, boxy room that looks as much generic seminar room as concert venue for Kupka’s Piano, a new Brisbane ensemble performing what turns out to be a beautifully structured program. Begins with Alex Raineri playing Tristan Murail’s solo piano work, La Mandragore. It’s a spooky piece, symbolically linked by the composer to “a man swinging on the gallows.”

Raineri describes it as frozen, chilling, yet with ravishingly beautiful gestures and that’s how he plays it, wonderfully light, sharp and fast up high, dark and menacing down low, sad and lost in between. Mad rushes and flurries get cut short, start up again and are dashed once more. A superb performance that finishes with the room utterly still.

Next is La Rose pulvérisée. It’s a duet of spiky interlocking chases, the flute and violin repeatedly blending and pulling apart to eventually dissipate as “a large idea pulverised into a small idea”—composer Rune Glerop’s apt description.

More performers join the stage for the premiere of Melody Eötvös’ Wild October Jones. A very emotional work—sweeping, fragmented melodies as well as subtle textural drones from piano and bass drum, bowed vibes and flute. There is something 19th century about this piece, a romance and tension that has me thinking movies, soundscapes and Sherlock Holmesian intrigue. I look forward to hearing more of Eötvös’ work.

A couple of very short pieces follow. Kurtag’s Varga Bálint Ligaturája where muted piano, pathetic scrapes and mysterious harmonies on strings tentatively creep into a very tonal chord progression that is broken only at the final chord. Then Liza Lim’s Love Letter has Angus Wilson playing some surprisingly musical snapping on and off of the snare drum snares, but really needs some amplification to make audible the subtler manipulations.

The final piece, Brett Dean’s Old King’s in Exile, is inspired by Arno Geiger’s memoir of his father’s long decay into dementia. Old Kings begins like a premonition, a bleak landscape with dismal prospect. The first movement is dominated by sad melody and frenzied descending scales on clarinet, with an occasional burst of energy briefly punctuating the gloom. The second movement changes tack with interlocking runs on woodwinds, but the grim message remains—nerves might fire for a while but will eventually fail to present any coherent vision of the world. There is only the struggle, brief victories, inevitable decline.

In this final work, and throughout the entire concert, the seamless blending of sound between instruments reveals a genuine strength of the ensemble. Whether in forming a vertical texture or in handing a phrase from one instrument to another, the sound glows with the musicality of the performers. A joy of a concert. I drive home thinking how completely inadequate listening to music is on YouTube, or compressed for streaming, when compared to sitting with others in a real space, listening to the music and musicians of our time.


Kupka’s Piano, Modern Music in Exile, flutes Jodie Rottle, clarinets Nicholas Harmsen, piano Alex Raineri, percussion Angus Wilson, violin Adam Cadell, cello Katherine Philip, conductor Peter Clark; Judith Wright Centre, Brisbane, 23 May

RealTime issue #122 Aug-Sept 2014 pg. 50

© Greg Hooper; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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