Transmission Confirmed reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Thursday, June 5, 2008. The Music Gallery, Toronto.

Transmission is the name of six dedicated Montreal musicians who overcame nightmarish scheduling problems to gather here because they very much wanted to play this challenging chamber music program.

Brigitte Poulin and D’Arcy Philip Gray teamed up to play my favourite piece of the evening, “Quatre Pièces febriles (1995)” for marimba and piano.

Composer Georges Asperghis describes it as “a game of mirrors…games between dry attack and their resonances…games where one gets lost not knowing who is who and what is what.” A piece by Asperghis is always amusing: this one is like one of those animations where your mirror image takes on an independent life and imitations fall in and out of synch, often echoing with unpredictable delays, rather than mirroring, as if your reflection were developing intelligence, knowledge of you, and a sense of humour as the piece develops. The incredible sense of timing between the players and some beautiful mellow tones of the marimba remain in the mind with great pleasure.

I also enjoyed Tristan Murail’s “Treize couleurs du soleil couchant (1978)”. Murail, a student of Messiaen and an admirer of Ligeti, is known as the composer of ‘spectral’ music—music based on the analysis of the natural acoustic qualities of sound as a way of avoiding the serialism of Boulez, Stockhausen, and so on. This particular piece expresses his fascination with the changes of colour and light of a sunset.

Murail expresses this musically through the sounds of flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano which each have defined structural roles within the sonic layering of this composition. The quiet parts of the composition based on the resonance of one or two notes gently take over the mind.

The mood grows excited to the level of hysteria, generating spectacular textures, though I preferred the passages where the energy melts into an enveloping fullness. Also interesting were the concluding combinations of Lori Freedman’s eerie clarinet sounds ground into a mix with hoarse, gritty violin work by Clemens Merkel and Poulin’s piano thunder that suggested the wistfully sad aspect of sunset. It is striking how wonderful is the silence at the end of such an energetically intense piece.

The evening began and ended with compositions by Boulez and Xenakis for the full ensemble including Guy Pelletier on flutes and Julie Trudeau on cello. “Plekto (1993)” by Xenakis is a confrontation of strong materials of contrasting textures, meters, and chording whose overlapping variations suggest hostile aggression, such as one associates with land-and-sky war. The satirical, hallucinatory and horrifying albeit riveting paintings of Goya, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud came to mind. This music is not shy. It ended with a bray and a loud bang and the audience loved it.

This concert was a New Music Arts Project presented as part of soundaXis ’08 and will be rebroadcast several times in the coming months on CBC radio 2.

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