It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

With society bursting at its seams and our civilization at the edge of an
abyss without a catcher in the rye, Grisey’s final work serves as a great
foreshadowing composition at the end of the second millennium, but nobody
seemed to be listening twenty years ago. It certainly resonates now!

Mr Rattle briefly introduced the piece, emphasizing the four different
deaths. He also alluded to the current worldly chaos. He usually doesn’t
speak about the music, but this clearly added to the performance’s urgency. In
retrospect, this unnerving, but sultry performance proved itself more an
ominous premonition of future tidings. Especially after what happened a week
later at the Christmas Market attack.

Gérard Grisey emerged from the spectralist school that produced some
fascinating soundscapes. He carries on the lineage of Tristan Murail and
Messiaen; though, Grisey distanced himself from such labels later in life. He
completed this work just before his own passing in 1998.

Grisey’s masterpiece in four segments eerily depicts the deaths of an
angel, civilization, voice, and mankind destroyed by nature. The “Death
of an Angel” text was taken from Christian Guez-Ricord’s “The
Hours of the Night”, heavy on Judeo-Christian images. “Death of
Civilisation” Grisey based on Egyptian Sarcophagi, while 6th
Century B.C., Greek poet Erinna originated the lyrics for “Death of
Voices”. Finally, The Epic of Gilgamesh serves as the
basis for the apocalyptical “Death of Mankind by Environment”.

Even though the concept seems terribly depressing, Grisey’s colourful
and invigorating soundscapes full of saxophones and nonconventional uses of
brass and strings really enlivened the auditorium. The depth dimensions in his
composition really thrived in space. Without the theatrical vocal craft of Ms.
Hannigan, this work might have a troublesome delivery.

The three percussive masters performing with an endless array of instruments
must have had a field day with their exciting pulses and rhythms. They
performed clearly inspired by Rattle, who of course, started out as a
percussionist. Each movement was connected by the soothing scrubbing of what
seemed like sandpaper on drum. These interludes created an otherworldly
ambience, adding to eerie foreboding nature of this piece.

In a fabulous black spiderwebbed outfit, Hannigan shared the stage with Sir
Simon revealing an intimate display of mutual respect. Spitting, regurgitating,
and swallowing the syllables ever so elegantly through Grisey’s vocally
acrobatic composition, Ms. Hannigan’s thrilling vocal expulsions, Mr
Rattle dare not contain, but he must! They seemed superlatively in tune to each
other with a symbiotic synergy one doesn’t often encounter.

Barbara Hannigan made her voice fluctuate and erupt with the languidness of
boiling magma in a simmering volcano. Long vocal lines melted with the
elongated curves of the trumpet’s calls, whose name I did not catch, but
delivered the most memorable trumpet tones. His curves melted into Ms. Hannigan’s
voluptuous bends and turns.

In the end, the penetrant, disorienting sounds resulted in a lavish,
arousing, but still fearful atmosphere. I hear you thinking ‘oh how
dramatic’, but the sense of impending doom created by Hannigan and Rattle
certainly fed into my political and environmental panic of what comes next?

The young audience yelled many bravi, while the applause continued for quite
some time, but this was not a piece you could to which you could give an
encore. I left the Philharmonie, thrilled, slightly unnerved by the sensual and
exhilarating closure to this extravaganza… Berlin never ceases to

David Pinedo

image_description=Barbara Hannigan [Photo by Elmer R. de Haas]
product_title=It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death
product_by=A review by David Pinedo
product_id=Above: Barbara Hannigan [Photo by Elmer R. de Haas]