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News

Kim Kashkashian - Article in The Strad
Jeremy Gill - Dallas Observer review of Jeremy Gill's Serenada Concertante
Arditti Quartet - Highlights
artist_pict Arditti Quartet


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The UK premiere of Wolfgang Rihm's Et Lux at the Huddersfield
December 3, 2009, 12:00 am

Wolfgang Rihm premiere, review
The UK premiere of Wolfgang Rihm's Et Lux at the Huddersfield
Contemporary Music Festival boasted unflagging concentration.
Rating: * * *

By Ivan Hewett
Published: 6:01PM GMT 23 Nov 2009

THREE years ago, the appointment of a new director of the
Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival who hailed from the
contemporary art world caused worries among some of the
festival's loyal fans. Too much "mixed-media" flim-flam, too
many eye-catching sonic "installations" and not enough real
music, was what they feared.

They must have been reassured by the two opening concerts last
Friday, which were purist to a fault. An air of stillness,
darkness and quiet concentration hung over the performances,
which were both concerned with the subject of death. Beyond that
they were utterly different.

Wolfgang Rihm's Et Lux, here receiving its UK premiere, was a
meditation on the Latin Requiem Mass. Rather than setting the
whole text, Rihm seized on a few key lines, particularly the
ones that pray for Eternal Light, and mused on them for over an
hour. In the perfect setting of the luminous and lofty St Paul's
Hall stood the four singers of the Hilliard Ensemble, and in
front of them sat the Arditti Quartet.

Rihm is a known as a composer of blistering modernist energy, so
the first sounds came as a shock. After a wispy single-line
introduction from the quartet came a pure euphonious vocal
chord. It was light but shadowy, a stunning moment of "darkness
visible". For a few seconds, we seemed to be immersed in a
melancholy late Renaissance motet by Gesualdo, the quartet
reinforcing the side-slipping vocal harmonies.

But soon things became more complex. Often, the music tipped
towards harsh dissonance, though always in a soft voice.

Sometimes, the quartet seemed to fight the voices with plucked
and scrubbed sounds, sometimes it was like a second four-part
choir.

The ending, which withdrew like a departing soul, was
beautifully paced and very moving. The performance had the
unflagging concentration that inspires complete confidence.

Rihm's piece was hardly easy listening, but at least its tender
and subtle surface invited a sympathetic listener. Richard
Barrett's Opening of the Mouth, on the other hand, didn't want
sympathy. Like a hedgehog curled against attack, it was prickly
all over; one could only guess at the feelings lurking within.

This 70-minute setting of burningly intense verses by Paul Celan
inspired by the Holocaust, for virtuoso ensemble, two voices and
electronics had some very striking moments. But whatever the
message contained in its fiercely dissonant runes, I failed to
read it.