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New simplicity for new complexists

Matthew Lorenzon: Inverse Spaces

In Inverse Spaces, Elizabeth Welsh and Kim Tan lead an unnamed ensemble in a program of post-serial composition from Italy. From this body of work they curate a musician’s arsenal of space, exploring the insides and outsides of psychological, domestic, musical and sonic spaces. Excellent notes by Tan guide the audience through the program, which sometimes couldn’t help departing from its raison d’être to present some plain old fine music.

Our first stop is A Pierre. Dell’azzurro Silenzio, Inquietum, a four-channel sonic environment designed by Luigi Nono. The environment is activated by whispers and grunts from Samuel Dunscombe on contrabass clarinet and Tan on bass flute. The sonic space increases in density while maintaining the same serene volume as the performers’ contributions are picked up and diffused. While the performers’ own sounds projected beautifully within the severe art deco interior of the Collins Street Baptist Church, the electroacoustic element sounded unfortunately two-dimensional.

From a large space to a claustrophobic one, Franco Donatoni’s Ciglio II is a duo for quarrelling voices. Tan associates the piece with a muffled dispute heard from an adjoining apartment. The quick pulse of the first movement underpins an exciting rhythmic counterpoint as the two voices dart about combatively. Mocking, descending chromatic lines appear as the argument turns nasty. The gestural imitation that constitutes the rest of the piece is its least imaginative part. It is as though Donatoni had run out of ideas and shoved in a study he wrote as a student. Welsh and Tan did their best to bring out the different voices of the study at this point, breathing life into a piece written in 1997 that sounded 100 years old.

Tan writes that the patterns of breath and choked punctuations of Toshio Hosokawa’s Atem-Lied for solo flute were “parallel patterns of speech,” but they resemble more of a virtuosic snore. Either way they acted as “a passage between inside and outside.” A particularly arresting effect was breathing into the flute while clattering the keys, which produced a gruesome, insect-like sound.

In Giacinto Scelsi’s Duo for violin and cello the two instruments drone along in a monotonous wash of string sound barely inflected by microtonal shifts and changing bow positions. Judith Hamann brought out the wonderful effect of droning on one string while playing trills high up on the fingerboard on another. The two instruments form a single conflicted voice, an “inner writhing” in Tan’s words. The particular mental space evoked is familiar to us all from the early morning before coffee.

Aldo Clementi’s Due Canoni is a fascinating experiment in tempo. The same canon is played three times, each time slower than the last. The first time it is heard as an atonal canon played legato in the violin and flute. The piano’s part is scattered with dynamics that make it jump out of the otherwise smooth surface. On the second, slower repetition the ear stretches to make sense of each note, inventing harmonies and passing notes between each distant tone. The effect is like watching atonality march off into the desert to die. As it retreats, it is harder and harder to make out. The third repetition changes the game once again, for each note is so long that you no longer hear the relationship between the voices, but focus in on the sound production of each individual tone. One becomes aware how difficult it is to keep each bow and breath steady, or of the beats in each piano note.

If this review seems a little light-hearted, this is perhaps because the works (and program notes) gave plenty of space for imaginative interpretation. The particular brand of Italian new music explored by the ensemble could well be described as “new simplicity for new complexists,” such was the laid-back presentation of otherwise difficult material.

Inverse Spaces, Elizabeth Welsh, Kim Tan and ensemble, Collins Street Baptist Church, Melbourne, 28 June

RealTime issue #122 Aug-Sept 2014 pg. web

© Matthew Lorenzon; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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