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Sweden in Leipzig
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Leipzig: Ensemble Avantgarde Swedish Program
Ensemble Avantgarde
March 31, 1999
Mendelssohn-Saal Leipzig

review by Justin Urcis

Roland Kluttig, Conductor
Kristine Sholz/Mats Persson, Piano

Program Title: Szene Stockholm

Bengt Hambræus: Transit I/II (1963)
Bo Nilsson: Szene I (1960/61)
Ivo Nilsson: ¿lo mismo? (1996)
Lars Sandberg: gesondert (1999)
Arne Mellnäs: Fragile (1973)
Klas Torstensson: Koorde (1991)

Continuing its Musica Nova series, the Ensemble Avantgarde presented a smorgasbord of Swedish contemporary composition. While some offerings were satisfying, others left an unpleasant after-taste.

The concert began with a ‘work’ by Bengt Hambræus- Transit I/II is actually two pieces, Transit I and Transit II, played simultaneously. Transit I, an early electronic piece, starts with some bizarre sounds. First, we hear something like a man fiddling with a door handle. Soon feedback effects and outer-space sounds come. After this cosmic introduction, a small instrumental group joins in with crashes in the bass register of the piano and outbursts from horn and trombone. This short work was quite ‘noisy’, but quite cool.

Szene I opened with a flute solo, notably played by flautist Ralf Mielke.

The Ensemble Avantgarde placed two world-premieres on the table: Ivo Nilsson’s ¿lo mismo? for two pianos and Lars Sandberg’s gesondert for small ensemble. Unfortunately, both were disappointing and left me confused. Sandberg’s two-movement work, composed specifically for this concert, contains some interesting material for the flute and brass, but the mid-air ending was more baffling than interesting. Nilsson’s short work begins with trite material which is manipulated in several ways. After some development we reach a second contrasting section, with reminders of our theme, but the work quickly becomes tedious.

After the mixed offerings of the first half, some appetizing treats were delivered in the second. Arne Mellnäs’ aleatoric Fragile, which is quiet throughout, has a clear plan: it begins on a single pitch, then moves to other pitches, before ending with only a single pitch. The opening was particularly beautiful as soprano tones from diverse instruments gently entered, each layering on top of each other to produce a magical effect, announcing a mini-epic of sorts. Dissonance soon destroys the meditational purity, but we now await the return to a single note, our yearning creating tension and a psychological forward momentum.

The concert ended with an energetic performance of the knuckle-busting Koorde for two pianos. From a composer who says that ‘I know exactly what I want to do and take this so seriously, that I have no time to listen to the music of other people,’ we could expect something audacious. This wild keyboard romp with repeated notes and pounding in the bass shows traces of Varèse and Xenakis. A calmer middle section allows the performers to throw some toys into the piano, pluck and scratch strings, play little games with each other - one pianist strikes a note, prompting an answer from the partner - and create many permutations of this technique. After teasing the audience for a few minutes, three notes announce the return to chaos.

The Ensemble Avantgarde presents its next concert in the Musica Nova series on May 5th, as they explore old and new Japanese music. Pianist Steffen Schleiermacher will be joined by shakuhachi player Andreas Fuyu Gutzwiller. The group’s techinical skill, interesting repertoire, and the lively acoustics of the Mendellsohn-Saal certainly merit a visit.

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Copyright 1999 by Paris Transatlantic