Magazine article The Spectator

Music New Light

Magazine article The Spectator

Music New Light

Article excerpt

Lucerne Summer Festival Lucerne Grimeborn Festival Arcola Theatre The third concert I went to at Lucerne last week was under two aegises: first 'Faith', the theme of this year's Festival, and second 'Pollini Perspectives'. Maurizio Pollini coined this phrase or concept several years ago, as indicating his project of giving concerts in which he combines music we know and love with music we don't know and hate - not that he put it in those terms, but that's what it amounts to. The latter is always in the first half, naturally.

At Lucerne it was not Maurizio, but his gifted pianist son Daniele who took part in the first half, which was the first performance of Carnaval Nos 10, 11 and 12, by the distinguished Italian composer Salvatore Sciarrino. He was with the immensely virtuosic Klangform Wien, consisting on this occasion of two flutes, two clarinets, two trombones, two cellos and percussion, together with five of the New Vocal Soloists of Stuttgart. Anyone at all au fait with contemporary music would be able to deduce from that list alone what Carnaval 10-12 is like.

Billed as lasting about 23 minutes, it was actually more like 45. I found it torture, and I suspect that a large proportion of the audience did, though the work and its amiable composer were given a warm and prolonged reception. Sitting a few places along from Boulez, I was tempted to ask him how he found it, but my nerve failed me. The outer movements set two short poems of Sciarrino, who is much influenced by 'Asian sources'. But the texts, printed in the programme, emerge one unrecognisable syllable at a time, so they are, in any ordinary sense, unfollowable. Much the same is true of the instrumental music, which manifests Sciarrino's fascination with silence, fragmentation, and so forth. I strove to find a way into at least some of this work - I don't enjoy sitting in mere bafflement - but I wasn't able to.

I believe that a major part of Pollini's agenda is to illuminate the new by the old and vice versa. But the only thing that's necessary to illuminate works as supreme as Beethoven's last three piano sonatas is a performance as transcendental as Pollini gave them on this occasion - and possibly the marvellous description of Opus 111 in Thomas Mann's Dr Faustus, though the passage was mainly written by Adorno.

Whereas in some recent concerts I have found Pollini disengaged, here his commitment was evident. …

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