In praise of a music critic who knows his history
by Tim Page
The last time I wrote an article for this blog I was on a train after performing in a concert of the London Contemporary Music Group at the Barbican to go to Brighton. For the benefit of those who are unfamiliar with the group, its members are: the cellist Nigel Kennedy, the pianist Sarah Chang and the cellist Mark Elder, currently one and two. I have sung with them several times and they are always a very good bunch.
The performance that night was a celebration of two great 20th century composers, Pierre Boulez and John Tavener. A full programme can be seen here.
The night began with Tavener’s Three Sonnets for Daphne.
Tavener has a unique sense of the theatricality of music in relation to the audience.
‘In the beginning’ he says, ‘I felt that music must make me feel the words. I felt that if it didn’t I would lose my belief in the text.’
And, as he says: ‘I always thought of the theatre as the place where the two worlds of words and music were combined. The idea of the text was so important that I wanted it to be performed in performance. That became the very first reason to set up the group.’
He was also very passionate about Boulez’s Daphne (1944), a piece written for the French singer Daphne Merle. To a man the audience responded well as they knew it was a piece they had not seen sung live before. It is a wonderful example of the work of both composers taken from a common source.
Boulez was another strong advocate of the concerto form which Tavener also followed. Boulez was in full flow as he played a selection of his three sonnets set to music.
Mark Elder, one of the cellists in the group, said he played the first sonnet three times to demonstrate the way in which the instrument was heard through the score. Nigel Kennedy, Tavener’s cellist for