Kafkapriccio – Oct. 17, 2010

Aventa Ensemble
Bill Linwood, conductor
Phillip T Young Recital Hall, Victoria BC
October 17, 2010
Deryk Barker, Music in Victoria

It is not given to everybody to see the funny side of Franz Kafka’s The Trial. One who did was undoubtedly Orson Welles in his 1962 film of the novel; not only did he interpolate humourous lines into the screenplay (Interrogator: Do you enjoy pornography? Josef K: I don’t even own a pornograph), but when the film was showing in Paris, he and star Anthony Perkins attended incognito and apparently laughed their way through the entire movie. The serious French crowd was not amused at this “disrespect” showed to the great director.

Judging by his Kafkapriccio, Poul Ruders is also capable of finding the humour in Kafka. Certainly there were passage which had me chuckling and even, at a couple of points, laughing out loud.

The work is derived from Ruders’ 2005 opera Kafka’s Trial and, like the opera, comments on the author’s life as well as his (unfinished) novel.

Although the music is almost completely tonal, it could have been written at no other time; Ruders may, at times, invoked the spirit of older composers (Charles Ives came to mind a couple of times) but he never sounds derivative or old-fashioned.

Among the frequently hair-raising faster music, such as the klezmer-inspired (the composer’s own description) opening section (which was enormously enjoyable) there were many moments of delicious lyricism and great beauty.

With the exception of Louis Ranger’s surreptitious move from one side of the stage to the other, in order to play his trumpet directly into the open piano, Ruders’ score eschews anything in the nature of a gimmick. And yet his music sounds fresh and grips the attention from beginning to end, an end which was simply gorgeous.

For an encore (almost the first time Aventa have ever done so) Linwood and his players once more raced through that opening, klezmer section – and it was every bit as exciting and humourous the second time around.

Kafkapriccio (is there a not-so-subtle reference to Strauss’s last opera there, I wonder?) was the culmination of an exceptional evening, even by Aventa’s own standards.

Ana Sokolovic’s Géométrie sentimentale, which opened the programme, was the only Twentieth Century music on the agenda. Comprised of three linked sections – the outer sections enlivened with a sense of humour and separated by a lyrical, slower central section – it shows a composer of eclectic sensibilities: the first part I noted as “Michael Nyman meets Stravinsky” while the last summoned up images of Messiaen and (in?) Tin Pan Alley.

Klaus Ib Jørgensen’s Chuva Obliqua (Slanting Rain), receiving its first performance on Sunday night, is, we are told, the second part of a trilogy An Encyclopedia of Rain (shades of Michael Palin’s The Testing of Eric Olthwaite: “It were always raining in Denley Moor – ‘cept when it were fine”).

As with other music of Jørgensen, Chuva Obliqua is something of a tough nut to crack. The violent opening puts the audience on notice that this is not going to be “easy listening” by any stretch of the imagination.

The music is clearly of considerable difficulty for the performers too and, except for the close, seemed to have three basic moods: violence, repressed violence and subdued violence; the connection to rain of any kind, slanting or not, rather escaped me.

The close, though, was something else: virtually every player suddenly produced what I believe were plastic food containers with rubber bands stretched inside them, which they proceed to play pizzicato.

This produced a strange, unearthly sound which, for me, was certainly worth hearing, even if the more violent music had not entirely convinced.

But then I strongly suspect that Jørgensen’s music does not yields its true depths on a single hearing.

The great tragedy of Sunday’s concert was that André Ristic was stranded in Belgium, having had his passport stolen, and could not return to Canada in time to attend the premiere performance of his Six apparitions de Lénine sur un piano.

Inspired by what would seem to be one of the very few Salvador Dali paintings I have never seen, Six apparitions is the “Scherzo to end all Scherzos”, full of pounding, lilting and loping rhythms, and with a significant solo piano part (the always-superb Miranda Wong), it was tremendously exciting and laced with humour (which seemed to be the keynote of the evening).

One of the great joys of attending an Aventa concert is that one can be sure that not only is one hearing music one is highly unlikely to hear otherwise, but that one is hearing it as well-played as it can be.

For, as I have observed so many times before, Bill Linwood once again directed performances of total conviction, fearsome accuracy and tremendous energy.

A fabulous evening.