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Barbara Hannigan [Photo by Elmer R. de Haas]
03 Jan 2017

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

A review by David Pinedo

Above: Barbara Hannigan [Photo by Elmer R. de Haas]

 

With society bursting at its seams and our civilization at the edge of an abyss without a catcher in the rye, Grisey’s final work serves as a great foreshadowing composition at the end of the second millennium, but nobody seemed to be listening twenty years ago. It certainly resonates now!

Mr Rattle briefly introduced the piece, emphasizing the four different deaths. He also alluded to the current worldly chaos. He usually doesn’t speak about the music, but this clearly added to the performance's urgency. In retrospect, this unnerving, but sultry performance proved itself more an ominous premonition of future tidings. Especially after what happened a week later at the Christmas Market attack.

Gérard Grisey emerged from the spectralist school that produced some fascinating soundscapes. He carries on the lineage of Tristan Murail and Messiaen; though, Grisey distanced himself from such labels later in life. He completed this work just before his own passing in 1998.

Grisey’s masterpiece in four segments eerily depicts the deaths of an angel, civilization, voice, and mankind destroyed by nature. The “Death of an Angel” text was taken from Christian Guez-Ricord’s “The Hours of the Night”, heavy on Judeo-Christian images. “Death of Civilisation” Grisey based on Egyptian Sarcophagi, while 6th Century B.C., Greek poet Erinna originated the lyrics for “Death of Voices”. Finally, The Epic of Gilgamesh serves as the basis for the apocalyptical “Death of Mankind by Environment”.

Even though the concept seems terribly depressing, Grisey’s colourful and invigorating soundscapes full of saxophones and nonconventional uses of brass and strings really enlivened the auditorium. The depth dimensions in his composition really thrived in space. Without the theatrical vocal craft of Ms. Hannigan, this work might have a troublesome delivery.

The three percussive masters performing with an endless array of instruments must have had a field day with their exciting pulses and rhythms. They performed clearly inspired by Rattle, who of course, started out as a percussionist. Each movement was connected by the soothing scrubbing of what seemed like sandpaper on drum. These interludes created an otherworldly ambience, adding to eerie foreboding nature of this piece.

In a fabulous black spiderwebbed outfit, Hannigan shared the stage with Sir Simon revealing an intimate display of mutual respect. Spitting, regurgitating, and swallowing the syllables ever so elegantly through Grisey’s vocally acrobatic composition, Ms. Hannigan’s thrilling vocal expulsions, Mr Rattle dare not contain, but he must! They seemed superlatively in tune to each other with a symbiotic synergy one doesn’t often encounter.

Barbara Hannigan made her voice fluctuate and erupt with the languidness of boiling magma in a simmering volcano. Long vocal lines melted with the elongated curves of the trumpet’s calls, whose name I did not catch, but delivered the most memorable trumpet tones. His curves melted into Ms. Hannigan's voluptuous bends and turns.

In the end, the penetrant, disorienting sounds resulted in a lavish, arousing, but still fearful atmosphere. I hear you thinking ‘oh how dramatic’, but the sense of impending doom created by Hannigan and Rattle certainly fed into my political and environmental panic of what comes next?

The young audience yelled many bravi, while the applause continued for quite some time, but this was not a piece you could to which you could give an encore. I left the Philharmonie, thrilled, slightly unnerved by the sensual and exhilarating closure to this extravaganza... Berlin never ceases to disappoint.

David Pinedo

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