MEIRION BOWEN - Articles & Publications
The international society for Contemporary Music held its festival this year in London, for the fifth time in its history, in fact. To some extent it brought coals to Newcastle. London boasts an enormous quantity of recent music in the normal run of things, and in this instance, the ISCM spree followed soon after the English Bach Festival, under whose auspices we are bombarded every year with works by Stockhausen or Skalkottas, Messiaen, Xenakis and many others, in various per- mutations. I therefore intend to discuss the ISCM festival in this thriving context.
For all its quirks and occasionally misplaced zeal, the enlightened taste and despotic, extravagant organisation of the EBF's director, Lina Lalandi, has usually served up true festival fare, has focused at- tention on innovations of importance, and has begun at long last to attract sizable audiences. By contrast the ISCM pro- grammes provided a consummate argument against committee planning. There was a dull uniformity about the whole business, few high spots, and audiences at each of the eleven concerts presented in the space of eight days were dominated by com- posers, publishers and critics, from this country and abroad.
A lot of the ISCM works were incred- ibly humdrum, bottom-drawer affairs, un- worthy of any festival. One wondered at times whether today's composers might not be equipped, like Pere Ubu, with some sort of shittapump to facilitate fast disposal of waste matter. They could thus prevent the ISCM committee from featuring their most unrepresentative pieces.
The Australian contributions at the Elizabeth Hall on June 5 all but boomeranged.
Nigel Butterley's Variations for wind quintet, piano and pre-recorded piano was a prize example of serial non-music. Peter Sculthorpe's Tabuh Tabuhan for wind quintet and two percussionists was an absolute write-off, giving not a glimpse of the talent displayed in, for example, the same composer's Sun Music sequence. Its pentatonic doodlings would have been inadequate even in a commercial for exotic cigars, or whatever. At this concert, these two works took up 14 hours, in a first half that was to last 14 hours, and those who had consumed too many double-gins in advance were now sitting cross-legged, furtive and furious. Richard Meale's Incredible Floridas came thus as a worthwhile object of attention, if not a total relief.
This six-movement homage to Rimbaud was ind-ed in a class by itself here. While each movement has a subtitle taken from Rimbaud, the music was on the whole conceived separately. It ranged stylistically from Faure (in the Interlude movement) to a sort of primitive heterophony, and over-all it fused oriental and occidental influences into a distinctive 39 continuous sections fit clearly within a basic arch-framework. The central slow movement is its apex, drawing together the many thematic strands of previous sections. Subtle, unpretentious music, indicative of its composer's fertile musical imagination, this quartet was possibly too reticently interpreted by the Dartington String Quartet.
With some justification Alexander Goehr's triple bill of theatre pieces - whose performance by the Music Theatre Ensemble the composer himself directed - occupied the rest of this evening. Goehr has more and more stood out as a romantic individualist among today's musical anarchists. And although Naboth's Vine- yard, Shadowplay 2 and Sonata about Jerusalem were separately conceived, they are all rich in metaphors about the persecution and rap-of the innocent, the incommunicability of an artist's idealised experience and the lure of false messiahs and gospels - very much in the Schoenberg tradition, in fact.
Naboth's Vineyard - the longest of the three - is also the most successful. Goehr's music, never so supple in movement or so texturally pellucid, sports an idiom, now suave, now astringent that echoes early Hindemith and Eisler. It underpins and articulates to perfection the dramatic message in this Old Testament story. Such musical interest is present, too, in Shadowplay 2 and Sonata about Jerusalem. In the former it is indeed the music that allows the symbolism of the piece, which is based on Plato's allegory of the prisoners in the cave, one of whom is suddenly exposed to the world outside but cannot convince his fellow-prisoners of its reality a symbolism which the libretto selfconsciously brings too far into the foreground to register its full effect. Sonata about Jerusalem contains a profusion of good ideas, musical and dramatic, but its internal proportions are ill-judged. Outstanding in the team of singers(actors/mimes was the tenor Philip Langridge, who acted and sang with a firm delivery and stage assurance.
The productions by John Cox were disappointing except for Naboth's Vineyard, which had improved since I saw the first performance two years ago, and was on the whole economic and exact in detail. His production of Shadowplay 2 was too predictable, too literal and subservient to the libretto. Its lighting lacked the vital ingredient for this piece - shadow-play itself. Sonata about Jerusalem needed a thorough overhaul, for it confused so many levels of meaning in stage-realisation. (A similar inadequacy was evident in the performance of Maxwell Davies' Revelation and Fall. The soprano Nun has a few square feet of stage on which to operate, but illusion and reality are constanly confounded by the presence of live instrumentalists and conductor in the immediate vicinity. No amount of ingenious lighting can alleviate this confusion. Perhaps the solution would be to have some kind of gauze suspended in front of the players, or a flat with holes cut in it allowing one to see the performers. The lighting could then be projected on to or through this, and a cohesive stage-picture thus devised. As things stand, one can only shut one's eyes and listen.)
Harrison Birtwistle's An Imaginury Landscape - given its premiere in a BBC Symphony Orchestra concert, conducted by Pierre Boulez at the Festival Hall on June 2 - was something of an enigma. It eschewed the more lyrical idiom that Birtwistle has lately favoured in important compositions like The Death of Orpheus and Meridien - both pre-visions of the composer's forthcoming operatic venture. Missing from this new piece is the sureness of technique and imaginative clarity so typical of Birtwistle. Here, he has made use of a computer as a sort of supplement, though not a substitute, for his own creative, non-rational speculation. An Imaginarity Landscape is thus one possible interpretation of a computer print-out based on information fed in by the composer. The print-out 'defined only the where and when, the formal proportions, the dialectic of sound and silence, a plan for the deployment of instrumental resources'. Or ostensibly so: my own feeling was that Birtwistle was ultimately rather restrained in his use of such material.
In the five 'musics' of this composition, character differentiation was weak, and changes of position by some of the four brass groups registered little in terms of thematic and textural alteration or modification. The monochrome aspect of the twelve brass as a group is deliberately maintained, and one's attention in this bare landscape riveted to details rather than an overall scheme.
The ISCM festival served to remind one more of past glories than of present achievements, of established composers' stature than of the potential of new minds. Boulez's concert with the BBC Symphony Orchestra included a shining realisation of Schoenberg's Variations, Op 31, a vivacious, if somewhat reckless account of Bartok's Second Piano Concerto with Claude Hellfer as soloist. The other new piece here, Siebengesang by Heinz Holliger, won prolonged cheers from the audience, but struck me as a slightly self-indulgent undisciplined composition. It made a marvellous concerto for Holliger, who at times conducted, as well as playing oboe with virtuosity. The inclusion of electronic distortions of the oboe sounds gave the work a wide sound-spectrum. The orchestra is also re-grouped for its exchanges with the oboe, but neither this nor the wide gamut of sonority compensated for protracted working-out of fundamentally undistinguished ideas. Even the final Trakl setting, bringing in seven voices, had more gimmickry than poetry in its context.
A concert at St John's, Smith Square, on June 7 utilised the London Sinfonietta to more worthwhile ends than some of the other events in the ISCM festivaL Even here, however, it was the oldies who stole one's affection. Roberto Gerhard's Leo is a Sinfonietta party-piece of which I shall never tire, I'm sure; and a new composition by Elisabeth Lutyens, Islands, showed how much we under-value her still.
Islands affects a more scintillating veneer of sound than you will often encounter in Lutyens' music, but there is no loss in substance. The four islands of the text verse by Sophocles, in translation, and by Shelley; prose by R L Stevenson and Rabelais (also in translation) - are shared out between soprano (Jane Manning) and tenor (Philip Langridge), who also provide percussion and vocally illustrative accompaniments when a narrator (Marius Goring) takes over in the final movement. Onomatopnia decorates already diaphanous textures here, and the music articulates broad contrasts of anguish and sensuous relish very convincingly. The last island is also a montage of cross-references to point the satirical attitude to the Church in Rabelais's writing.
Two other vocal works (again delegated to the indefatigable Jane Manning) adopted rather more uncompromising attitudes to their texts. Bill Hopkins's Two Pomes salvaged from a projected series of settings of Joyce, seemed to me too aphoristic to let the verbal values interpenetrate with musical meanings. Music and text got in each other's way. Justin Connolly, in the first of three groups of settings of Wallace Stevens' poetry, forced words and music together into a generalised dramatic statement, that surrendered their incipient potency. The pattern of each setting was somewhat uniform: the voice and the instruments stuck together too much. Yet there was evidence here of technique and skill forging their way through to a distant objective.
Robert Sherlaw Johnson's Second Piano Sonata (performed by the composer) was the nearest we got to an accomplished composition by a composer not of the older generation in this concert, and even this one seemed to divide the audience. Indeed, if the festival's last concert had been a temperature-chart of the contem- porary-music scene, things would look bad indeed. Nicolaus Huber's Versuch iiber Sprache aroused the cry of 'Merde! ', and would give musique concrete a bad name if we didn't know better. Further anony- mous items followed by Seymour Shifrin and R Murray Schafer. With relief one relished the Sibelius-like Chorali for 32 wind and percussion (London Sinfonietta with Elgar Howarth at the helm) by the Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen. The fes- tival would have left a conservative impression if this had been the last work we had approved of, but Presence by Bernd Alois Zimmerman and Atrees by Xenakis redressed the balance slightly.
Presence was for a delightfully old- fashioned-seeming piano trio (Saschko Gawriloff, Aloys Kontarsky and Siegfried Palm) who get a bit more hairy. The piece dates back to 1961, and since then has been given in a ballet version, devised by John Cranko for the 1968 Schwetzingen Festival. Such dramatisation remained true to the composer's conception, for each instrument in the trio is associated with a literary figure: the violin with Don Quixote, the cello with Molly Bloom, and the piano with Ubu Roi. To some extent these instrumental 'characters' remain apart from each other (the time patterns are often independent), and the main inter- action seems to come when they converge upon quotations from Strauss' Don Quixote, Prokofiev's Seventh Sonata, and so on. At times they run out of steam, but the balance in this mixed impression is on the favourable side.
The ISCM festival was, thus, not a great occasion; neither was it a non-event. It lacked character, let alone colour. It can have converted few. Apathy, its committee seems to assume, will always reign supreme among the public at large, so leave us alone to have our party. But Londoners know otherwise. The EBF has already struck home. This year we had a Stock- hausen marathon that drew in the crowds; it was reported in the August issue. Also featured were major pieces by Jani Christou.
The curious will not have learnt much from the long-winded programme notes supplied on Christou's music dividing his work into umpteen periods, and subdivid- ing further until one lost count; inventing more technical jargon than one could ever remember when listening or later digesting aural impressions. But the London Sinfonietta performance of Torrgues of Fire a 1964 EBF commission - had the sort of intensity that converts people to a strange idiom without further ado about mega-statements or isochromes. Scored for mixed chorus, three soloists and orchestra and mixing song and sprechgesang (or something near it), the work directs atten- tion to the descent of the Holy Ghost after the Resurrection. Christou used several texts, and set them with a keen sense of dramatic and ecstatic goals. Rhythmically and texturally it employs simple means to to achieve the most immediate and telling effects. And I suspect that (unlike Orff), Christou had learnt to avoid platitude in this deployment of very direct techniques.
The prolific Christou could throw o6 compositions, however, which were ill-conceived, needing much revision. Patterns and Permutations, given its premiere in the New Philharmonia Orchestra's concert under John Pritchard at the Festival Hall on May 7, saw the composer ill at ease with the full orchestral body. A continuous piece in 17 sections, its scoring is good in the percussion department, clumsy with wind noises; its logic is swiftly apparent without, however, registering anything other than cerebral skill.
Anyone who is a stranger to London's musical life might imagine that such a quant.ity of contemporary music would leave one numbed or sodden, but the diversity both of the contemporary scene and the general musical ambience nearly always provides ample counterpoise. In any case, it is normal to find anything or nothing happening at new-music concerts these days, as well as everything in between.
At the German Institute on May 13, everything was happening: 17 groups in all, playing in almost every room in the building, outside on the terrace and in the gardens. Wandelkonzert they called it (Vandal concert I'm sure the neighbours called it). All the beautiful people were there, wandering in and out, wondering whether to be turned on and off, and no doubt finally just turned out.
Some of this activity was self-conscious and puerile - for instance, those in the park, dancing, shouting and beating drums, bells and gongs in a pseudo-oriental fashion. Much of it was plain brutish and noisy. At the entrance to one room upstairs stood someone who appeared to be a tramp beating the living daylights out of a petrol-can. I was on the brink of beating the living daylights out of him, for musical motives only, but wondered whether the police would be called: I couldn't afford an Oz-style trial. In any case, there was a 'silent' room where you get away from it all, where various individuals made the quietest sounds imaginable. Occasional glimpses of rock and real mainstream music were refreshing eg Intermodulation's rendering of Cardew's Volo Solo and Stockhausen's A bwarts, music that came in short, fast spurts, for the most part. The occasion overall offered a selection of musiques d'ameublement, for its general effect was static and disengaging.
John White's Machine for tuba and cello at the Elizabeth Hall on May 17 proved to be the ultimate in non-events this season. At opposite sides of the stage sat Cornelius Cardew and the composer, the former playing long slow notes interspersed with a pizzicato note or two - on the cello, to which the composer contributed a few lazy interpolations, again mainly slow stuff. Meanwhile, the audience read these artists' love-letters (proliferating from the time Music Now arranged this concert). White's letters were as dull as his music. Cardew's were wryly funny at times, and contained an odd hint or two as to what Machine was to do for them (if not for us). Something was expected in the second hour. But after 1.5 hours, nothing seemed likely to happen and I retired. The best moment of the evening was when their restrained dialogue on stage was shattered by an alarm clock that went off inside the suitcase of a member of the audience. Machine was at the opposite extreme from the frenetic activity of the Wandelkonzert. I can only imagine that we should have attained some state of spiritual repose by the end of the evening, or were supposed to: which is why I felt it should have all happened in a church or similarly numbing piece of architecture. In the Elizabeth Hall it merely reminded one of long hours waiting for delayed flights to materialise in the depths of night at an airport.
AMM has a following that is more numerous than many fringe improvisation rites. In the Elizabeth Hall on June 10, however, only temperaments akin to those of Buddhist monks could have stuck it for long. There is a curious disregard for the audience at such sessions as these that is not always necessary. In the period (again 1.5 hours) I endured, the only striking effect was when Cardew (that man again!) switched on the organ having fixed down pedal and manual keys. There were some additional all-out improvisation romps comparable to those heard in avantgarde jazz also. Much here proved repetitive and barren of imagination.
In a recital by a group called cpe (initial letters of the players' names - Chris May, Phil Gebbett and Ed Fulton) in the Purcell Room in March, there were hints that not all of their doings were random. May's Piece for players (1970) could either be taken as a disciplined romp, according to whether one accepted the technical information in the programme-note or the final parenthesis it contained, stating that such observations were not necessarily those of the composer. The work involved dressing and undressing, reading from a book, a snatch of a Noel Coward (?) song on record, a mercifully short assault on the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, and other miscellaneous antics musical and theatrical. Morton Feldman's study in the way sounds die within slow, very soft musical contexts in Piano Four Hands (1958) was neatly executed, as was Christian Wolff's more nebulous In-between Pieces for Three Players (1963), played on violin, recordes and bass-clarinet. Further exercises in anti-music here included Trio for cpe by Phil Gebbett, John Cage's Variations I and II and Music Walk (1958); and Toshi Ichiyanagi's Sapporo (1963). In Ed Fulton's Market goods - perishable, music by Haydn was slowed down and filled out with a selection of more recent concoctions Pousseur, Feldman and so on. This was the most promising piece in the programme.
It often worries me that many such groups will never progress beyond their early attainments simply because their performers are technically rather limited. This struck me most forcibly with Mouth of Hermes which, when I heard it in the Purcell Room on April 15, seemed to have advanced little beyond the average skill evidenced by their very first recital a few years ago. Slow notes and silence once more invaded the programme - this time in Feldman's Two Instruments - but there were compensations. Terry Riley's Dorian Mix built up a compelling continuum of sounds from a sequence of repeated figures initiated by the leader and emulated by the other players. These 'loop' figures are intended to reveal different facets of the Dorian mode, and their exact shape is varied by the players. Nevertheless, it went on rather long. Ligeti has utilised a similar basic principle with more flair in Ramifications.
Some of the half-deliberate boredom of the Feldman invaded A Book of Offerings by the group's director Frank Denyer. This chain of five movements occupied the whole of the 6rst half of the recital. It explores different degrees and tensions of tonality in ways that fleetingly resemble Indian music and medixval organum. Again slow tempi (for example in the first movement, for flute and bells; the fourth, for flute and cello; and the fifth, for two horns and trombones) made for a rather discursive effect. The second movement was one that made its point more assuredly: here a cello accompanies scurrying figures on bass clarinet, these latter remini- scent of the clarinet part in Messiaen's Quatuor pour la fin du temps; a tambourine adds vivid punctuation also, its function being described as 'largely colotomic', a word I am happy to welcome to my repertoire of anal adjectives.
The most resplendent creative spirit, if such an effusion can be permitted, in this rather listless programme was that of the Korean composer Isang Yun, whose dode- caphonic clarinet and piano work Riul appeared a taut structure, brimful of com- plex, rich invention. Its length was justified fully by the content, and it called forth more committed and accurate playing than was the case elsewhere in this concert.
From time to time there is an influx of American pianists with high reputations as winners of competitions, apprentices of the famous, and much fitted by the media. The trouble is that so often they can't play, and it is awfully embarrassing when, as in the Sparky story, the magic piano won't play for them. Thomas Simons, in his Wigmore Hall recital on April 26 pulled Beethoven and Mozart into rags and tatters, showing no ability to set up and sustain a basic pulse within a piece, let alone understanding of the characteristic nuances and phrasing of the Viennese idiom. His performance of Stockhausen's Piano Piece No 9 was equally insensitive. Specified tempi and dynamics were disregarded, and there was manifestly no feeling for the manner in which Stockhausen exploits the acoustic properties of the instruments. What a world of difference when Aloys Kontarsky played the same work at St John's, Smith Square, later that week, on April 30. Simon's composition, Potar Transmutation said less than his playing.
Nina Deutsch, another American, included in her Wigmore Hall recital on April 28 Charles Ives' First Piano Sonata and The Alcotts movement from his Second Sonata. She was at home in these, responding to the challenge they present to realise all types of sound, all categories of musical material - whether rustic or rhetorical, original or quoted with equal identification.
The star pianist to appear on the London concert scene in recent months has undoubtedly been Roger Woodward, who gave a marathon recital of contemporary piano music at the Elizabeth Hall on April 25. His formidable technique and stamina are matched by considerable insight into the music he interprets, and he will be an inspiration to more than one composer in the future, I am sure.
He began with two works in fact dedicated to him by Takemitsu and Richard Meale: Takemitsu's three short pieces, with collective title, Undisturbed Rest, and Meale's Coruscations. Both exploited Woodward's capacity for highly charged expressive playing at speed, and I should like to have heard their intricate filigree-work again. Perhaps Woodward might have repeated them, this time without noisy perambulating usherettes and late comers to the audience to disturb his playing. Again, however, he produced a striking, compact composition by Ross Ed- wards, Monos II (one of a projected series of short pieces for solo instruments), again virtuoso from a pianistic angle, but fiercely emotional. Leo Brouwer's Sonata pian' e forte followed, a continuation of Gabrieli's sonata of the same name, which is heard on tape first before begetting a collage (whose material later also derives from Gabrieli, Beethoven, Scriabin and Szymanowski). But the tour de force of this recital was the Sonata (1952) by Jean Barraque. Few pianists could have measured up to its immense demands on the physical and cerebral as well as Woodward did here. For long stretches in the second of its parts, the work seemed conceived against rather than from within the pianistic medium, yet its power and momentum rarely wane. Listeners were pounded-aurally and intellectually - into submission.
This recital stood out like a beacon, as do the concerts of London Sinfonietta (when they are gainfully employed, which - as I mentioned earlier - has not always been the case). Their two pre-European tour concerts - at the Elizabeth Hall on June 14 and 18 - were directed by Boulez and Berio respectively, and naturally included music by them.
Now that he is established as one of the charismatic avantgarde figures (partly Cathy Berberian and the party-piece orgasm Visage; partly his resemblance to Peter Sellers but mostly, I think, the communicative strength of his most recent works), Berio has been able to attract large audiences to programmes devoted entirely to his own compositions (for instance the conc=rt on June 14), and this has also allowed him to give earlier pieces of his an airing. Tempi concertati (which he directed in aii EBF concert at the Elizabeth Hall on May 3, in spite of having left his specs in a taxi) was composed between 1958-9, and saw Berio throwing off some of his earlier influences (Webern, for example) in favour of a more Mediterranenan enjoy- ment of sonority for its own sake. It is an investigation of instrumental 'analogies', the creative premise being that the 'sound families' of an ensemble do not necessarily coincide with the normal division into 'instrumental families'. So far, so simple: the complexity comes in the 'concertati' bit, which enables an intricate relationship between the tempi of individual soloists and of the groups to spring from carefully defined freedom of communication within the ensemble as a whole. As in some American music-theatre pieces, the movement is dependent upon a repertoire of cues and signals. In Tempi concertati the method and language are not fully fledged for it to direct its meaningful gestures to the audience: good to play and to observe, and difficult to absorb.
Berio's later exploration of a more hybrid kind of language has widened the scope of his music considerably, without jettisoning the technical achievement of Tempi concertati. He must be among the few composers today who can make Bartollozi sounds appear integral and essential, as Sebastian Bell so brilliantly demonstrated on June 14 with his performance of Sequenza I for flute. Berio has also become fascinated with the spoken word and with early opera. Much of this has rubbed off in works like 0 King (sung here by Elise Ross), and the Sinfonia (1968) of which it forms the second movement; his Air for soprano, an arrangement for chamber group of part of Berio's recent Opera (given last year at the Santa Fe Opera), in which he takes a portion of the English translation of Striggio's libretto for Monteverdi's Orfeo, and creates elaborate vocal melismata out of the separate syllables of the text. An almost Straussian lust for the soprano voice - evident from Visage - is to be found as far back as El mar la mar (sung by Elise Ross and Sarah Walker) which dates from 1952: three luscious settings of a Spanish text by Albert, using soprano and mezzo with chamber ensemble.
Laborintus II (1965) indeed was the result of Berio's collaboration with Italian poet, novelist, philologist and philosopher, Eduardo Sanguineti. Like the Mahler movement in the Sinfonia, the work is a vast collage of vocalised and instrumental sound, a homage to Dante. It takes a much more controlled performance than the Sinfonietta forces gave here (last year's read- ings were incomparable) to make the many strands in this hybrid score cohere: although the Sinfonietta Chorus provided its own answer to the Swingle Singers well enough, the narrator, Maurice Essam, would be more at home, I felt, announcing train delays at Waterloo station. Laborintus II made an uneven impression on this occasion. Boulez in the audience, must have found its impurities of style worthy of reprimand. (I wondered whether he was ticking off Berio beforehand, as there was an interminable delay when the audience returned after the interval; on the other hand, perhaps the composer had lost his specs again.)
Had there been a more 'open' concept of musical language underlying Boulez's own Domaines, I guess it would have made an even more telling effect. Even so, this UK premiere of the work on June 18 went some way towards countering the notion that Boulez is finished as a composer and now belongs to the rostrum. I myself had not heard the earlier version of Domaines, for solo clarinet, only hostile reports of it. 21 extra players, in six groups arranged round the perimeter of the stage with the conductor in the middle (there are many other possible groupings) are featured in this new version. The soloist, Alan Hacker, moves from one ensemble to another choosing music from a sheet which allows of various interpretations; the ensembles 'echo' him. In the second part of the piece their roles are reversed, the conductor and ensemble determining the order and the soloist following this set course (they here play from the reverse side of their music-sheets).
Domaines is a further experiment in the kind of 'language game' Boulez explored so far in Pli selon pli. Yet the piece defines a somewhat different sound-world bearing hardly a hint of the previous Messiaen-in-fluenced gamelan effects; and its musical procedures are more precisely articulated. In its rigorous and Wittgenstein-ian chastity of formulation, Domaines engages in linguistic play yet remains aloof. Berio reaches out to the vernacular; Boulez re- mains uncontaminated, admirable, admired, yet isolated from the listener - even from many of his performers, one suspects, in the long run.
Boulez obtained superlative response from the Sinfonietta at this concert, both in Domaines, and in works by Stockhausen and Schoenberg. Zeitmasse has always been my most unfavourite piece of Stockhausen. True, few interpretations ever realise the detail of this score (which has dynamic markings for nearly every note) with sufficient accuracy, let alone understanding, to convert any listeners. This one was miraculously done, but even so, aroused intellectual curiosity about its concepts of flexible rhythm, rather than fascination with its sound-spectrum.
In Pierrot Lunaire, Marie-Therese Escri-bano was a winning exponent of the Sprechgesang role, giving it overtones of the French diseuse, but never losing its dark undercurrent of passion; her sensitivity to verbal and musical values was acute. Even though the minimal lighting and stage-poses were far removed from the original cabaret production, and added little here, this was among the finqst most convincing performances of Pierrot I can recall. London's contemporary scene may have its troughs (like much of the ISCM Festival), but its peaks are Himalayan.