Karl Fiorini

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

Malta, currently flying high with Caravaggio and “raindrops of fire” among the pavilions at the 59th Venice Biennale (23 April-27 November), is a place short on neither innovation nor experiment. Nor, as Karl Fiorini’s challengingly curated, artistically discerning Spring Festival (in its sixteenth season) has illustrated particularly well in Valletta this past week, of a diverse, cross-generation public increasingly thirsty to immerse itself in the fresh, unusual or provocative. Rehearsals, lunchtime platforms, evening concerts, dawns by the Grand Harbour, late nights in bars and hangouts down narrow, steeply stepped, dimly lit lanes, tobacco and weed in the air, merge into an open-ended journey of philosophical, sensorial and personal discovery, notions and arguments liberally exchanged, “boldly [going] where no one has gone before”. A contact cocktail, heady, rarefied and physical.

Setting stratospheric standards, Kamila Bydlowska, violin, Shiry Rashkovsky, viola, and Ella Rundle, cello – Trio Klein from London (Grand Salon, National Museum of Archaeology, 21 April) – epitomize the best in contemporary British. With all three players taking experienced, infectious turns at introducing the music, animated in sharing their engagement, a technically superior, classily prepared, visually arresting show, strong on audience-friendly, audience-responsive transmission, was assured. Following Gideon Klein’s crafted Terezín Trio (1944), Xenakis’s Ikhoor (1978) – the ethereal fluid that is the blood of gods and immortals, toxic to humans – was, for all its toughness, coordination and comprehension issues, negotiated with remarkable aplomb and certainty. Likewise the fades and flourishes, the remembrances, of Penderecki’s two-movement Trio (1990/91). But it was Schnittke’s poly-stylistic Trio (1985) that perhaps left the most enduring impression. A fragmented mystic journey. Memorial, autobiography, reminiscence. Pain, shades of sonatas and quartets, the Winterreise of a life … Nothing defined, everything felt. A reading of eloquent pace and pathos, free of pretension. Music this ensemble should record commercially.

Polarised around Lady Macbeth, voyaging realms confrontational, unsettling, probing, psychological, Muse and Madness (Casino Maltese, 21 April, late evening) took us to realms within ourselves, examining chemistries of being, interaction and reaction, facets of dream states and inner conflict/doubt. In the course of a visually/sonically compelling hour, hued ‘palace’ black and ‘blood’ red – scarcely rehearsed, previously unstaged, no repeat run in prospect – the encounter was more about questions than clarifications, an undulating self seeking exercise. Muse. An animate/inanimate source of inspiration, a life-inducing presence or object. The Roman Muses of Varro Reatinus – born of the motion of water, of making sound by striking the air, of the human voice. Madness. One person’s derangement another’s sanity. One era’s understanding another’s rejection. Henze: “The mad lady clad in a long robe, her hair undone, her crazy eyes following the smoky flickering light of a candle on a Georgian [sic] candle-stick which she herself supports with one arm as if it were a torch, while the other points a sword at her breast. She moves through the bleak halls of her cold, black palace, a thunderstorm is raging outside, the wind is howling, she is totally mad, talks incoherently, sings dirty ditties, swears and shouts. For all that she is immensely royal, her madness is majestic”. With a kaleidoscopic canvas highlighting (but not only) Henze and a vocal/spoken input harvesting Shakespeare’s words and imagery, this was a gripping montage, the line and direction intentionally vague yet without losing tensility. If sometimes the timing, the pauses, seemed unduly studied in length and emphasis, there was even so a logic in their placement, a sense of deliberated theatricality, an essence of the mad woman of history ambered inexorably.

Anna Maria Pammer, long an impassioned banner carrier for all that’s progressive and awakening, distinguished as the imperious, troubled, hissing Lady, eyes and diction penetrating. Hungarian in origin, Gyöngyvér Szentkereszty, “performer”, “a citizen of the world”, originally a violist and experimental improviser, allured in her action and steps, communicating through multi-jointed movement, her stretched musculature, skeletally wracked fingers, and tall, dynamically placed torso (she understands her body) waiting for a da Vinci to capture her anatomy. Her face, ethereally calm by the end, she entrusted initially to Janus, deity of doorways, passages and bridges, of beginnings, head sheathed frontwards in red, rearwards in a small white mask, detached headphones demarcating the spheres. Katharina Themessl, guitar, impressed with Henze’s interpretatively taxing Mad Lady Macbeth, a reading emboldened with added choreography from Szentkereszty. Reminiscent in manner of Ayano Kataoka, Alessandra Reiner, tuned/untuned percussion, proved a formidable solo/team player, holding the listener at all levels of the spectrum, mesmeric in her delivery, rhythmic phrasing and expressive artistry.

Familiar from a recent Danacord Debussy recording [DACOCD 842], the Messiaen Quartet Copenhagen – Viktor Wennesz, clarinet, Malin William-Olsson, violin, Carl-Oscar Østerlind, cello,Kristoffer Hyldig, piano (Teatru Manoel, 22 April) – brought us Steingrímur Rohloff’s Die 4 Himmelsrichtungen (The Four Cardinal Points, 2020). “At first glance my music only consists – if at all – of a beautiful surface. Whoever enters [this sound world] and proceeds to the music’s interior will find a complexity influenced by the organic structures of nature – with all their layerings and branches” (2013). A rugged individual, Rohloff was born in Reykjavík to an Icelandic mother and German father. He grew up near Hanover, subsequently studying with Krzysztof Meyer in Cologne and then in Paris at the Conservatoire national superieur and IRCAM. Back in Cologne between 2001 and 2003 he worked with Hans-Ulrich Humpert, Eimert’s successor at the Musikhochschule’s electronic music studio. Scandinavia, the northern lands, lies close to his heart, it’s been said, but “Central European modernism has always stimulated him more” (Stefan Amzoll). Commissioned by and dedicated to the Quartet, Die 4 Himmelsrichtungen divides into four untitled ‘parts’ linked by three transitions, the ‘sound of air’ and white note finger-gliding first and third of the latter identical harmonically, temporally and conceptually. Graciously imagined and driven – from early rippling minimalist delicacy to late vocal shouts – it came off convincingly, the exposingly dry acoustic and less than peak condition Steinway of the Teatru Manoel notwithstanding.

Quartet for the End of Time. Messiaen’s prisoner-of-war masterpiece. 1941. A pondered account that frequently had everyone playing on the threshold of barely-born sound, at times concerned, wraith-like, more with suggesting than centering the notes. Overall this was a performance erring on the remoter side of Baltic/Arctic tundra solitude, the extensive slower material and solos especially so. But it wasn’t without “sweet cascades of blue-orange chords”, poetically balanced textures, cries of bright exultation. Not all was black. “The ascent of man to his god, the child of God to his Father, the being made divine towards Paradise” stilled the room.