Cover Versions

Went with Sara to a concert at Kings Place where amongst others, we heard this amazing piece by Tom Adès, atomising Couperin into sticky pieces.

I’d scribbled the concert absently in my diary months ago when I got the flier and I’d rather forgotten what it was about.

But then, unexpected delights have that element of suprise, they work on you more automatically. Because I hadn’t really given much thought to the concert it really punctured my bubble of Fridayness.

“Cover versions” was an evening of contemporary reworkings of older pieces. Arrangements in fact. And when I say contemporary, I’m talking heavy-weights of the contemporary music scene – Kurtag, Birtwhistle, Ades – re-arranging heavy-weights of the past: Purcell, Machaut, Couperin. Despite all the heavy names it was a surprisingly weightless evening.

The conceit was a one of hommage. Of composer taking something they love and doing something lovely to it. But also of the historical kaleidoscope hearing one layer of time through another and through another, all shifting and twisting before your very ears.

Stravinsky famously took the forgotten music of Pergolesi and breathed 20th century life into it as the Pulcinella Suite. (Which gets a full perfomance alongside the Pergolesi originals tomorrow at Kings Place.) Pulcinella sees Stravinsky in 1920, in Paris, dealing with the carnage of the First World War, turning backwards to the elegance and wit of the 18th century. Neo-classicism was as much a defensive move on Igor’s part as a stylistic one. And then this evening, we heard a 1925 arrangement of that arrangement: the cello and piano “Suite Italienne” that he made from the Pulcinella music played here, in London, in 2010.

What do I make of a turn back to the classical by a composer who was writing almost 90 years ago? Well, I have no World War One to reflect on – but I do have my teenage obsession (1980s) with an old LP of Stravinsky conducting the orchestral version. That enters into my kaleidoscope… But right now in 2010, the most immediate thing is the performance, the brilliance of the playing.

It’s a playful piece – Pulcinella is Mr. Punch – and Tim Gill, the Sinfonietta’s principal cellist, played playfully. The 15 minutes with his fingers flaming up and down the fretboard, effortlessly, almost casually really reminded me of the joy of chamber music. One man (and an accompanist) really showing off, saying: Listen! Look! this is what we can do! Pergolesi and 1700s, Stravinsky and the 1920s and me in 2010, here alive in this room. Look at the historical kaleidoscope! but also: look at my fingers, here now, in London, this minute…

1 Comment

  1. Dave Brown

    October 16, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    Thanks for this post. It’s quite unusual and ‘softens’ the piece brilliantly for me. I like Les Baricades Mysterieuses whether played on harpsichord or piano, but this is a wonderful discovery! Thanks again.

Leave a Reply