Brilliant battle cries
HEINER GOEBBELS has a knack of creating unique, mesmerising works of music theatre that linger in the memory. His latest, Songs of War I Have Seen, was given its world premiere under Sian Edwards last night (recorded by Radio 3 for future transmission).
It was prefaced by Biber's Battalia, which represents the sounds of war and drunken revelry in music and still sounds avant garde more than 300 years after it was written, and Goebbels's Schlachtenbeschreibung (Battle Description), which sets Leonardo da Vinci's vivid verbal representation of a battle scene.
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and London Sinfonietta, joined forces for Songs of War: the men formally attired at the rear, with the women casually dressed at the front in a quasi-domestic setting complete with boudoir lamps.
Texts from Gertrude Stein's Wars I Have Seen were read by the women, a tricky task they pulled off with aplomb — not least the hilarious nonsense story of a chicken told by the harpist, Helen Tunstall. Stein's characteristic repetitions, suggestive of history repeating itself, and her tone of curiously momentous banality, are captured brilliantly in Goebbels's draggy syncopations and multi-layered, genre-crossing idiom. His music incorporates excerpts from Matthew Locke's The Tempest, as well as elements of jazz, rock and more besides.
While Songs of War has a limited visual dimension, it ends with a superb piece of theatre. As the lamps are dimmed, the women brush glass vessels to produce an otherworldly, bell-like sound, while a solo trumpeter (the excellent Paul Archibald) unfolds a keening microtonal lament like an incantation. Utterly hypnotic and quite unforgettable.
Evening Standard (GB), 13 July 2007