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Culture: Singers tussle with composers; Schola Heidelberg Barber Institute, Birmingham University.

Byline: Christopher Morley

In artistic terms, nowhere can man's inhumanity to man be more clearly experienced than in the field of contemporary vocal music.

Composers make their singers jump through all manner of uncongenial hoops in parasitical plunderings of texts of otherwise stand-alone integrity.

Wednesday's Barber Celebrity concert from Walter Nussbaum's Schola Heidelberg set a context where such reactions proved all-too-often depressingly accurate. Tuning-forks often to the fore, these eight remarkably adroit singers found themselves pitting their undoubted skills against the demands of composers whose ends did not always justify the means.

Largely this happened in an Italian-influenced first half (Italian creators notoriously among the most pretentious of the avant-gardists), and not least in the inconsequential if brilliantly organised Sara dolce tacere (why bother to choose any text at all?) by Luigi Nono, surely a composer destined for the recycle bin of history.

After an obsessive opening movement ripe for the psychiatrist's couch, the normally fastidious Salvatore Sciarrino redeemed himself in the more lyrical, meaningful remainder of his Tre canti senza pietre. Caspar Johannes Walter's daring Leopardi setting L'Infinito packed much colour and incident into its short length.

Gesualdo Responsories, more demanding in view of their tonal divergencies than the wildest undisciplined outpourings, weaved a context-setting thread throughout, as did Brahms partsongs in the Germanic second half.

Here I admired Wolfgang Rihm's beautifully-imagined quo me rapis and Rene Leibowitz's exquisite, luminous Three Poems of Pierre Reverdy, rewarding indeed. But most telling of all was J. Marc Reichow's performance of Schoenberg's Three Piano Pieces, Op.11. Significant, that.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 28, 2003
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