Members of the Klangforum Wien:
Lorelei Dowling – bassoon solo
Olivier Vivarès – clarinet solo
Christoph Walder – horn
Gunde Jäch-Micko – violin
Sophie Schafleitner – violin
Andrew Jezek – viola
Benedikt Leitner – cello
Michael Seifried – double bass
Krassimir Sterev – accordion
Florian Müller – piano
Lukas Schiske – percussion
Klaus Lang: hungrige Sterne for clarinet, bass clarinet, horn, viola, cello, double bass
Georges Aperghis: Simulacre IV for solo bass clarinet
Katharina Klement: einen Moment bitte for bass clarinet, horn, percussion, accordion, piano, violin, cello, double bass
Johannes Maria Staud: Celluloid for solo bassoon
Bernhard Gander: khul for string quartet
Vienna offers few must-see musical prospects for balmy nights in August, but halfway through the summer doldrums the Klangforum Wien gives a concert in the quirky orientalized surroundings of the Zacherlfabrik, a one-time insecticide factory, which routinely proves the highlight of the cultural venue’s short summer season.
The programme for this year’s event was mostly Austrian, though not names one finds cropping up too often in Vienna: at the risk of making Graz sound like the outback, Klaus Lang is active mostly in his home province of Styria and, befitting any self-respecting member of an Ablinger collective, has not ingratiated himself with Viennese institutions to the same extent as other composers isolated from the capital; Katharina Klement I have seen perform regularly as a keyboardist in perhaps half the small ensembles she is involved in, though never playing any of her own music; while as a mohawk-sporting, life and soul of the party type and socially engaged composer, the colourful Bernhard Gander is largely regarded as a benign gadfly, though the strength of his writing is to my mind often unfairly overlooked.
The one non-Austrian was Georges Aperghis, who, together with Johannes Maria Staud, had one of his shorter solo pieces performed. Simulacre IV for bass clarinet offers a ten-minute bout of fluttery movement, sometimes playful, sometimes vaguely menacing, sometimes as merely ambient as the buzzing of a bee. The entire range of the instrument gets covered and even notes high for a soprano clarinet never sounded squeaked out in Olivier Vivarès’ playing, which concealed the piece’s difficulties well. But despite his eloquent phrasing I wondered at the music, which seems a rather conventional and even mundane exploration of instrumental effects compared against Aperghis’ understanding of and spectacular writing for the human voice, which possesses otherworldly, intoxicating qualities this work lacked. How this fourth piece stands alongside the Simulacres I-III, which include a soprano part, I can’t say, but the entire set has been recorded by Vivarès and is possibly worth looking into. Staud’s Celluloid is another concise piece which sounded at times little more than a technical study, no matter how adroitly bassoonist Lorelei Dowling huffed and puffed her way through it. There is a Peter and the Wolf-style exploitation of the instrument’s imitative potential with animalistic grunting and the like, though to avoid queasiness that is perhaps not an image one would wish to hang onto until the frenzied ending, when some merciless act of cruelty befalls our friendly water-dwelling beast.
Bernhard Gander’s khul is a traditional piece of quartet-writing and as self-contained as any decent standalone movement, but would have even more impact as a bold opening statement were he inclined to add to it. The all-important proportions of content, development and length are precisely measured, even classical, though Gander is not overly concerned with order; fragmentary motifs are discharged like bullets from a gun and tension is derived from treating them as dysfunctional atomistic units when they are anything but. The writing is lean, impatient and almost brusque in tone, though also spellbinding in its own curious way; rarely is a rigidly ritmico movement pulled off with so much charm not of the exasperatingly cloying Viennese variety. This movement sounded written for the Ardittis and sure enough I found that was the case, but any quartet drawn from the Klangforum will be formidable in its own right and particularly one headed by Gunde Jäch-Micko. Attack was fierce though with much of the spacing stacked against the cello the more muscular style of the Klangforum’s other cellist, Andreas Lindenbaum, may have been a better fit for the piece.
Benedikt Leitner’s mellower tone was however perfect for Klaus Lang’s hungrige Sterne, a piece of understated, meditative beauty not dissimilar in style from Lang’s The Book of Serenity, which almost moved me to tears. Lang builds up the piece with a tone cluster, opening with a perfect fifth and gradually filling out the interval from within; everything at this stage is done with harmonics and the combination of horn, bass clarinet and strings is carefully balanced and ethereal in quality. A kind of suspended sound through timbre, and specifically harmonics, is nothing new, but this was consummately crafted and sounded distinct. Eventually properly pitched sound is introduced: the double bass oscillates between E and E flat, the cello produces a brushed sound around F, and the walls of the perfect fifth are maintained as harmonics, though at more of a hum than at the beginning. There is never a sense of tonal murkiness, but at two points the dissonances are scaled back and, deathly quiet, a C major chorale emerges. Quite possibly Bach, so the Berg violin concerto trick, though without Riemenschneider to hand I couldn’t have identified it. After a few suspensions it collapses in on itself as unobtrusively as it appeared and there is a faster paced coda with long, swift string bows to finish off the piece. This was hauntingly played by every member of the ensemble, who premiered it only the other day at Alpbach; hopefully it will appear on the next Kairos release of Lang’s works.
Katharina Klement’s einen Moment, bitte claims to state, in a single moment, a dizzying number of concentrated simultaneous events and subsequently disentangle them through time, though there is also the ambiguity, which evolves dialectically, of her stretching out the moment as she unravels the fabrics that hold it together. Naturally the shadow of Webern looms large over this experiment, which I will write about in more detail when the Klangforum repeats the work on September 5th (this performance will be recorded and turned into a sound installation to be exhibited at the Zacherlfabrik throughout September). Don’t miss out on this one if you are in town, the piece is ingeniously written and played superbly. Details here; as with all these summer concerts at the Zacherfabrik entrance is free, though show up half an hour early if you want a seat – Klangforum events are insanely popular, as they should be.
Some photos of the place below: