27 April 2009, Geoff Brown, The Times
London Sinfonietta/OAE at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, SE1
The strings attached to music commissions can sometimes tie composers in knots. But a lightbulb lit up in Heiner Goebbels's head when invited to mark the Festival Hall's 2007 reopening with a piece for the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment and the London Sinfonietta. He would take these champions of ancient and modern music and link them in a work whose subject never dies: war. Equally, since he was Heiner Goebbels, his Songs of Wars I Have Seen would link different media and material: music and theatre, notes and texts, 17th-century implants (the music of Matthew Locke) and 21st-century techno haze. Threading through would be the poignant words of Gertrude Stein, from her 1945 memoir Wars I Have Seen. The result? A triumph. And still a triumph in Friday's revival. Under Anu Tali's incisive control, the musicians weaved a spell of pensive beauty, from Paul Archibald's melted bugle calls through limping syncopations to techno hiss and judder, lightly applied. Goebbels's own music conveyed so much that I'm not sure the Locke quotations were needed. But we certainly needed Stein's observations about Vichy France, very well spoken by female instrumentalists, cosily dressed, table lamps shining nearby. Beforehand, the Sinfonietta and Tali launched themselves upon Sampler Suite, extracted from Goebbels's Surrogate Cities. Another multifaceted construct, this, though with less immediate appeal, partly through the lack of any binding text, partly through amplification smudging the instrumentalists'colours. Still, Goebbels's musical excavations were always evocative - café jazz here, Jewish cantor song there. And rather his sampled cityscape, engaging, mysterious, only briefly noisy, than the unprocessed bedlam of real life outside.
on: Songs of Wars I have seen (Music Theatre)