Sunday, 5 September 2010

Dum Transissets Ferneyhough

A feast of Dum Transissets at Saturday's Prom Matinee, built around Brian Ferneyhough's Dum Transisset I-IV. A whole Prom built around a short string quartet? But Ferneyhough's one of the most interesting European composers around, anything he does is seriously significant. (Book now for the Ferneyhough Total Immersion.) It's been heard at Salzburg, Huddersfield and Berlin, but this was the London premiere.  Listen to the The Arditti Quartet on the repeat broadcast  (starts at 43.0 minutes).

The reference is Dum transisset Sabbatum, "When the Sabbath hath past", meaning the Sabbath after Jesus's Crucifixion. Jesus has died and been buried. But when his friends go to anoint his body, he appears, alive again. The key mystery in the whole New Testament. As is said in the commentary, the idea is that the Ardittis find their way "like Houdinis" through Ferneyhough's intricate maze. 

Four sections which move from statis to horror through rapture to wild freedom: Reliquary, Totentanz, Shadows and Contrafracta. Barely audible tappings, bowings that shape huge twisting contortions, exquisite pppp that makes you listen intently.  Maybe the excellent blog 5 against 4 will write about it?  He writes about new music in an  informed but communicative way, which is good.  Part of the reason new music doesn't get through to "ordinary" people is because some of the fraternity likes excluding outsiders. It's not technicality that intimidates (anyone can master that)  but the spirit of cliqueyness. That's not fair on the music, much of which is very good indeed. There's no reason mere mortals shouldn't enjoy new music, given encouragement to enjoy and feel.   

Perhaps that's why this Prom encased Ferneyhough with other works on the same Risen from the Dead theme. Those accustomed to contemplating the miracle in the New Testament have already acquired contemplative skills and should be able to adapt them to new means of expression.  That said, I'd rather have listened to the original Dum Transisset by Christopher Tye (1505?-1572?) which inspired Ferneyhough in the first place. It's much more unearthly and primeval than the latter-day versions included in this Prom.

Luckily, we did get Taverner (the original). I did hear the whole concert through, so maybe I did a Houdini too, since only Ferneyhough (and Taverner) were worth more than one listen. Sorry but I'm definitely no fan of Jonathan Harvey or Thea Musgrave. I could hear where Bayan Northcott was going with his Hymn to Cybele but it was a bit too Birtwistle for me.

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