FringeReview UK 2018
The wind quintet LIPS founded in 2014 is remarkable for its sonorities and exploration of new repertoire; as well as its singular line-up of full-time scientists, software engineer and lawyer.
The wind quintet LIPS founded in 2014 is remarkable for its sonorities and exploration of new repertoire. It’s also remarkable for its line-up.
Dan Elson, oboe is professor of Surgical Imaging. Sweden-based Hanna Barriga, flute seems the only full-time musician. Charlotte Woolley, clarinet works for the MOD and has a DPhil in laser physics, Matthew Sackman, horn is a software engineer, and Rick Yoder, bassoon a U. S. corporate lawyer.
I’d forgotten György Ligeti’s Six Bagatelles (1953) were written for piano over the previous two years and these six selected from twelve. They just sound so utterly idiomatic and have been completely rewritten. Prehistoric Ligeti, as he termed himself before he left Hungary for the west in 1956, is tuneful, quirky, dangerously post-Bartok.
The nine-note and very quirky Allegro con spirito is a kind of Perpetuum Mobile piece, a jerky dance used curiously three months after Ligeti’s death (occurring in June 2006) in a production of Alan Bennett’s Habeas Corpus of 1973. It pops up frequently, and in a finale the cast’s doctor character gives about the future deaths of everyone in the cast. It’s sort of funny, and as it happens pure Ligeti – say his 1978 opera Le Grand Macabre.
The Rubato. Lamentoso really is a lament and touches far darker things than a wind quintet negotiates a mourning processional for Ligeti’s own family perhaps. Lines drawn out in a mix of tread and threnody, powerful and affecting. The Allegro grazioso’s a kind of summer breeze by comparison, a memorable relaxation before the six-note stabbing Presto ruvido
The Adagio. Mesto starts like a mysterious Bartok nocturne then a two-note stabbing like a cuckoo takes over and the whole things fades. The final Molto vivace. Capriccioso must have discomposed everyone. It’s not tuneful, lines disintegrate, it’s more than capricious ad alone gives a foretaste of things post prehistoric, as it were.
Next slightly simpler fare, Samuel Barber’s Summer Music. There’s also Barber’s song Knoxville: Summer of 1915 with summer in this title, and a similar elegiac quality suffuses the slow then lilting edges of Barber’s melodic lines. His spicier harmonies drift in though the piece doesn’t touch the aggression or driven elements sometimes encountered in his Violin Concerto or Piano Concerto particularly. More perhaps the double concerto or Capricorn Concert. But this is one of Barber’s most memorable small-scale pieces, difficult to grasp formally, but certainly beautiful, and remarkably fresh.
Finally a name I’ve not encountered. There must be about a hundred America wind or brass composers who write for instance mainly for the Eastman Wind Ensemble and university bands. LIPS shave played composers like Masalanka and there’s others like the older Persichetti. So Eric Ewazen (b. 1954) and his Roaring Fork about a canyon and surrounding spaces fits perfectly into those composers you can find on the Naxos label and American ones generally.
This is civilized attractive music and goes on being played. If I’d have to characterize this series of tone-paintings of a various natural habitat I might say a little Barber and Menotti infusing Jerome Moross of The Big Country (1962) for the wide open spaces, with a generally muted superior film-music wash. The composer hopes we intuit the scenery. Well in a vague way. It doesn’t matter. It’s a perfect way to wind down the intensities earlier with a piece none of us know. It slips in as easily as summer cocktails on a terrace overlooking the Rockies; from a safe distance, with thick forest below.
LIPS are a superb ensemble, professional in everything and from their schedule and Facebook pages, clearly in demand at some of the more prestigious venues, Oxford colleges, concert halls and with luck perhaps a broadcast concert or two. The only thing LIPS lack is a dedicated website. Marvelously worthwhile, and typical of the Chapel Royal team to have discovered them.