Music We’d Like to Hear, 2023 (part 1)

Sunday 9 July 2023

Fresh from hearing Juliet Fraser and Mark Knoop together on record in Laurence Crane’s Natural World, on Friday I heard them again, live this time, at the first Music We’d Like to Hear concert for the year. They performed the soprano and piano reduction of Satie’s Socrate, a piece which, despite the decades of belated praise and reassessment, must still be described as unfairly overlooked. Certainly, opportunities to hear it in any form are all too rare, even though by now Satie’s magnum opus must surely hold more sway over contemporary music practice than, say, Pierrot Lunaire. Fraser and Knoop gave the first part a disarmingly clean, alert character before making ‘Les bords de l’Ilissus’ soft and lingering, only in the final part reaching towards the “whiteness” of expression Satie desired even as word and music might be expected to reach an emotional peak, letting subject and manner taper off into stillness.

The concert had already begun with the lulling effect of Bea Redweik’s Songs as Process, a “pre-concert event” in which Redweik strummed and plucked an acoustic guitar while half singing, half murmuring to herself while accompanied by video of herself doing the same thing at home. The two echoed and circled around each other, blurring into the effect of having heard a song without registering or retaining its details, partway between performance and installation. There were parallels to be found with Walter Zimmermann’s Abgeschiedenheit, which began Knoop’s solo recital after the interval. If the deconstructed folklorism associated with Zimmermann’s music is present in this piece, then it is in a highly abstracted form: a labyrinth of long, straight corridors and empty rooms where refrains appear haphazardly. Knoop played through it with suitable directness, eschewing mystery to present a disorientating experience as a disturbing presence that refuses to reveal any secrets. The concert concluded with Galina Ustvolskaya’s fourth and sixth sonatas. (This might be the first time two pianists have tackled the sixth in different venues in the same town on consecutive nights, Siwan Rhys having thrown herself into it at Southbank on Thursday.) Knoop made the most of distinguishing fine grades of dynamics in these notoriously forceful, single-minded compositions and threw himself straight into the sixth without without waiting for applause after the fourth. The massed clusters and stamped out single notes are a punishing experience, even as their tangled sonorities both reveal and allude to larger orchestral details within their stark outlines. Even so, Knoop held something in reserve to make the forearm clusters towards the end hammer home with even greater force. It was a Haessler piano and it held up very well.