First published in The Herald on 28 November, 2013
Colin Currie/Nicolas Hodges
Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow
There can’t be many musicians able to bring Stockhausen’s Kontakte to life quite as vividly, and with quite as much cool authority, as percussionist Colin Currie and pianist Nicolas Hodges. It’s not that their performance in the Old Fruitmarket was particularly showy or grandiose; somehow it was their distillation of grace and ferocity, the subtle balance between Hodge’s composure and Currie’s poised athleticism, that made for such an enthralling account.
Stockhausen’s pioneering work of the late 1950s combines a still-confounding array of electronics (delivered here by Sean Williams) with a palette of live effects that always strikes me as every bit as futuristic as the taped stuff. This performance was perhaps better at illuminating the intricate, quick-shifting relationships between musical elements than it was at creating an immersive whole; the effect is supposed to work in surround-sound, but here the electronics mostly seemed to come from two sets of speakers stacked at either side of the stage.
Visually it’s hypnotic, and looked good in the darkened Fruitmarket. The musicians punctuate their frenetic choreography with moments of almost ceremonial reverence: the focal point comes when the electronics momentarily retreat into the ether and pianist and percussionist stand centre-stage beating a pair of brass gongs. For all his obsessive futurism, Stockhausen doffs his cap at instruments that are as old as the hills.
Hodges opened with Stockhausen’s Klavierstucke X, composed around the same time as Kontake but using only acoustic sounds. This is playful, quixotic music that refuses to be fixed down: as jaggedy as a Nancarrow player-piano study, as limpid as a Debussy prelude. Programming it before Kontakte worked as a kind of ear-cleanser, attuning us to acute gradations of sound and silence.