Monday, 24 October 2011

Wien Modern begins early at the Konzerthaus

Konzerthaus (Berio Saal), 11/10/2011

Hsin-Huei Huang, piano
Claudia Doderer, installation & light

Salvatore Sciarrino: Notturno no. 1 (1998), Notturno no. 3 (1999-2000)
Tristan Murail: La Mandragore (1993)
Beat Furrer: Drei Klavierstücke (2004)
Iannis Xenakis: Mists (1981)

The consistency of events like Wien Modern and ensembles like the Klangforum and Arnold Schoenberg Chor means that postwar music of middling to high difficulty rarely gets subjected to a bad performance in Vienna. Even venues and ensembles with more limited resources – like, respectively, the Alte Schmiede and the Pierrot Lunaire – don’t often disappoint. As this concert wore on I thought the playing reached the level of a respectable Alte Schmiede event, but judged as an engagement at the Konzerthaus it fell somewhat short. Hsin-Huei Huang is a capable pianist with a number of contemporary music credentials on her résumé, but there was the sense in this concert of full pianistic potential already reached, with many moments where she seemed simply overwhelmed by the demands of the music.

The two Sciarrino pieces, practically unperformable in the dry acoustic of the Berio Saal, were given a hesitant and technically unsteady performance. The descending chords of no. 1 were placed awkwardly, with little sense of line, and tempi were considerably slower than my recording (Nicolas Hodges, highly recommended). The Murail was played more fluently and pedalled better. Huang seemed to understand that the recurring notes – C sharp, and later D sharp – have a special significance in this piece, though little sense was made of the concluding section, which ended abruptly. Beat Furrer’s Drei Klavierstücke are three very different but not so unusual pieces; the second similar to the second movement of Ligeti’s Musica ricercata, the third full of ironic tonal passages interrupted by a right hand ostinato which Huang managed capably. Claudia Doderer’s art installation – a white sail and a small heap of stones – finally acquired some relevance in the Xenakis. It’s hard to say exactly what a couple of interesting lighting changes added to the music, but it was imaginatively choreographed and here Doderer (an Achim Freyer student and long-standing Klaus Lang collaborator) seemed to understand the music she was working with. Huang’s scales had good clarity and sense of direction, but the ‘mists’ sounded random and lacking in expression (as strangely interesting as it was to hear such apparent disregard for the rigour of Xenakis’s internal logic).

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