For us, one of the most interesting features of the London Sinfonietta’s Sunday program at the Ted Mann concert hall (great acoustics, by the way!) was that we had seen virtually the entire program less than 72 hours previously at the Music Room in the Hamm Building (see our review for Thursday, January 15 for more details). We don’t know how often any of you reading this blog have had a similar experience, but for financial and time considerations, if for nothing else—fear of boredom looming large under the “else” category—we rarely see a program by anyone in the performing arts twice.
Nevertheless, the experiment was a success. Certainly, the London Sinfonietta was just as consistently interesting on Sunday as on Thursday (or on Saturday with the OAE—see our last review). They play with an intense intellectual precision, but leavened by a playful and wry sense of humor. So, not to put too fine a point on it, our grand conclusion would be that we once again liked them a lot.
Interestingly, we both found the first and second movements of Paul’s favorite piece last time (and Dee’s second favorite), Benjamin’s Three Inventions, a little thin this time around. The composition may not have been rich enough to withstand heavy scrutiny or (perhaps more likely), we enjoyed the piece’s surface flash the first time around, but missed the deeper arguments, so there was nothing to sustain us the second time we listened. Furthermore, Paul felt (Dee wasn’t sure) that the Sinfonietta dug deeper and more assertively into the third movement on Thursday night, so maybe it was the performance that didn’t sustain the composition.
Taking stock of a live performance is tricky, isn’t it? The interaction between performers, audience, and composer is so complex that it can be difficult (for us, anyway) to track down the source of our responses. Maybe we were less receptive to Benjamin this time because we forgot to eat lunch! Who knows? But enough philosophizing! Back to the Sinfonietta: Paul was converted to Dee’s point of view on Thursday night regarding Birtwistle’s Cortege (Dee: “I knew it.”).
Paul: Fantastic! I was blind the first time around! Again, it’s amazing how differently one can see an artwork depending upon one’s understanding. This time I knew enough from seeing and hearing the piece last time (not to mention listening to Dee rave about it) to grasp clearly the ceremonial thrust of the piece from the opening notes onward. The London Sinfonietta closed with Stravinsky’s Suite from L’histoire du soldat, a piece they didn’t play last Thursday. In their hands, the potential of the piece as a boozy, carnivalesque brawl is fully exploited.
Dee: One of the things I noticed was that the small combo performing the piece played to and with each other. Maybe not having a conductor to look to made a difference; the musicians looked to one another instead. Also, the orchestra really captured the eighteenth and nineteenth century satirical humor often aimed at the life of a soldier; it evoked that tradition of literature for me, novels like Thackeray’s Barry Lyndon. Finally, I saw I had underestimated Stravinsky’s range, since I hadn’t really heard the piece before. I was pleasantly surprised, because Stravinsky to me has always meant something more coolly avant-garde (which I also like) than the more human tableaux he painted here.
Thanks for reading, if you made it this far. We’re signing off now until next time. Our next concert is a mock duel between the SPCO and the OAE later in the week; we’re going to the Thursday night performance at Temple Israel. See you there.