This week I have been mostly listening to Nono and Radulescu, and my ears have been getting a solid workout in long-form extended instrumental techniques.
That sort of thing is all very well – and Nono’s A Pierre at the RAM on Wednesday showed that it could be deeply moving – but there’s a danger of taking it all too seriously. So Mary Dullea‘s Warehouse recital last night came as a welcome pitstop for one approaching extended technique fatigue. There was plenty on show, but all of it from composers not afraid to lighten up a bit, whether Benedict Mason’s perversions of pianism or Stephen Montague’s carefree indulgence in ringing resonances. We got a two-minute teaser for a forthcoming Jennifer Walshe piece (which involves lots of Kill Bill-style lightning punches to the piano body) and some typically chunky modernism from Pawel Szymanski. But the standout was Rolf Hind’s Towers of Silence, a work in five continuous movements that tickles the piano’s full noise-making potential from the pedals to the keyboard lid. On paper it might recall Lachenmann, but it had a tremendous lightness of spirit – appropriately it draws its title from Farsi sky burial mounds – that come from an almost accidental approach to sonic exploration, in which new discoveries are made, tossed around a bit, and perhaps remembered again much later.
A Pierre on Wednesday night struck me as my favourite sort of Nono, building fantastically detailed, improbable structures from nothing but air and the slightest vibration. At his best, Nono does something with sound and its manipulation within memory that is very special, and A Pierre nailed it for me. Funnily, Omaggio à György Kurtág – longer and for twice as many players felt too lightweight, taken past the point of evaporation where A Pierre held itself between two states. Unfortunately, Noontides, by RAM composer Alexander Campkin, felt leaden and overwhelmed in such auspicious company.