End with a wind up: Ensemble intercontemporain at Wigmore Hall
Stalls F5, £5 (under-35s)
19 March 2018
Harrison Birtwistle Five Distances for Five Instruments
Elliott Carter Retracing for bassoon, Retracing II for solo horn
Heinz Holliger Sonata for oboe
Elliott Carter Esprit Rude/Esprit Doux
John Cage Music for Wind Instruments
Blaise Ubaldini In the backyard
In this short but characteristically intense programme Ensemble intercontemporain celebrated the wind quintet and its component parts – a worthy endeavour and largely intelligently done but I wasn’t too dismayed it was just a one-acter.
I, probably like most people, was there mainly for the Birtwistle, which was highly concise, cryptically intent, mysteriously troublesome and all in all exactly what you want and expect from a Birtwistle piece, expertly performed by the ensemble. The three Carters, for solo bassoon, solo horn and clarinet/flute duo were also each tremendously entertaining, sophisticated and witty and illuminating of the individual characters that can be made from these instruments.
The rest of the programme falls more under the ‘I’m not so sure…’ header. I’m always keen to see Cage but while Music for Wind Instruments has lots of cool ideas I felt it also veered into smugness over its course, becoming faintly ludicrous in its cagey extension of the players beyond themselves. The Holliger earlier in the programme attained full-blown ludicrousness and was not flatteringly placed within the Carters, oboist Didier Pateau very impressive but also looking too much like he was going to explode for the thankless return the piece gave. Finally, the world premiere from Blaise Ubaldini was again, I think, not well placed after the Cage. No doubt it was intended as a light-hearted bit of a fun to give the concert a cheery closing fillip but, while initially amused, I found myself soon tooth-gnashing at its overlong silliness.
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