fri 19/07/2024

Ensemble InterContemporain, Wigmore Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Ensemble InterContemporain, Wigmore Hall

Ensemble InterContemporain, Wigmore Hall

Eccentricity inspires colour, nuance and slapstick from young composer Matteo Franceschini

Matteo Franceschini: incredibly subtle, even when surrealMarine Drouard

The Paris-based Ensemble InterContemporain brought a wide-ranging programme to the Wigmore Hall.

They are known as new music specialists – the group was founded by Pierre Boulez as the house band for the IRCAM electronic music studio – so Ravel and Debussy are early music for them. In fact, those venerable names were included to give context to more recent French and Italian compositions. Leading mid-century modernists were also included – Messiaen, Maderna and Berio – but the real substance was provided by two living composers, Philippe Schoeller and Matteo Franceschini, both offering stimulating scores, here presented in exemplary performances.

Most of the programme was made up of solo or piano-accompanied works, one each for clarinet, viola, violin, and two for flute. Among the soloists, the woodwind sounded more secure than the strings, with clarinettist Jérôme Comte and flautist Sophie Cherrier given many moments to shine. But the unsung hero was pianist Hidéki Nagano, a key ingredient in the programme’s continuity. Nagano has a fluid but definite touch and is able to draw an unusually elegant and warm tone from the Wigmore Steinway. That was immediately evident from the opening notes of the Debussy Première rapsodie, presented here by Nagano and Comte as an essay in colour and atmosphere. Comte began strongly, and although he lost some of his colour when the pace of the runs increased, he was always able to fall back on Nagano.

The Ravel Violin Sonata (now known as No. 2, the programme note reminded us) also benefitted from warm, lyrical accompaniment, but violinist Jeanne-Marie Conquer didn’t have the same presence. She was insecure in the opening and through much of the finale, and the Blues middle movement lacked the necessary swagger. Similarly, violist Odile Auboin was unconvincing in Maderna’s unaccompanied Viola, an open-form work that needs more conviction if it is not to sound merely arbitrary. No such problems, though, from Sophie Cherrier, whose Le Merle noir of Messiaen was the highlight of the first half, the blackbird here roused to colourful and varied song. Her rendition of Berio’s Sequenza I opened the second half, another agile and focused reading – or performance rather, as she played from memory.

Philippe SchoellerThe two modern works were presented as culminations to each half of the concert. Schoeller’s Madrigal is for piano quartet, but neither its instrumentation nor its style give much of a clue as to the choice of title. The composer (pictured left by Franck Ferville) gave a cryptic allusion to the Renaissance vocal form in the programme, saying that his music, like that of the madrigalists, follows "uncountable transformations and pathways that exist between joy and melancholy". That phrase captures the complex but introverted emotional terrain of this music, and also its subtle continuity. We hear complex but subdued tremolo and glissando textures, initially in isolated fragments but soon coalescing into what seem like interconnected movements. An impressive continuity ultimately emerges, but even then it almost seems accidental.

Matteo Franceschini’s work closed the programme, a Wigmore Hall co-commission here receiving its UK premiere. The title is long: ‘Les Excentriques’ Traité physionomique à l’usage des curieux, but is fully justified by the music itself. Franceschini explains that the six substantial movements are portraits of unnamed eccentric characters he has known, exploring the idea of physiological eccentricity from a number of musical angles. The ensemble was made up of every player so far heard: piano quartet plus flute and clarinet, the woodwinds both playing three different sizes of instrument, and the ensemble now conducted – an absolute necessity and done with great skill – by Jens McManama.

Of the six movements, the first and last are fast, while the middle four are slower, though never sedate or laid back. Eccentricity takes the form of disjointed dances in the outer movements, melodic profiles always close to the surface, but the rhythmic foundation fluid and continually morphing from one format to another. Similar ideas are heard in inner movements, a tick-tock obbligato in the violin, for example, remaining steady while all else shifts beneath. The use of the instruments throughout the work is incredibly subtle, even when the results are surreal, even slapstick, and the performance brought out every detail and nuance. Franceschini is clearly a name to watch, and is well deserving of this ensemble’s exemplary advocacy.


Eccentricity takes the form of disjointed dances, their rhythms fluid and continually morphing


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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