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Heiner Goebbels subtitles A House of Call “My imaginary notebook”. First performed in 2021, it was his first score for full orchestra in more than a quarter of a century and, at 105 minutes, it is one of his longest works to date. The starting point for its 15 movements, which are thematically grouped into four sections, was a scrupulously documented anthology of found recordings that Goebbels assembled over many years. The samples range from the early days of wax cylinders to the present, whether that’s the sounds of a Berlin building site or an Amazonian ritual, children singing a Bach chorale in the 1930s or the playwright Heiner Müller reading from his own works; all of them have been embedded in an orchestral score of extraordinary imagination.
The huge range of reference and allusion in A House of Call (the title comes from James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake) came across vividly on the ECM recording that was released last year. But in a live performance such as this UK premiere, which was superbly prepared and presented by the London Philharmonic, conducted by Vimbayi Kaziboni, the sheer subtlety and complexity of the orchestral writing seemed even more impressive.
Shimmering, Boulez-like trills and tremolos underpin the opening section, while manic violin solos followed by a reedy accordion and cimbalom accompany voices from the Caucasus. The chants of a lost south-west African tribe are taken up by electric guitars and drum kit, while the whole work ends with the voices of members of the orchestra chanting one of the final texts that Samuel Beckett wrote. It’s a dazzling parade of musical imagery, utterly involving and one of Goebbels’s finest achievements.
Earlier in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, another work concerned with memories and association, Héloïse Werner’s For Mira, had received its London premiere from the Aurora Orchestra, conducted by Nicholas Collon. It was the centrepiece of a programme that had begun with an outstandingly fresh, punchy account of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto, with Jan Lisiecki as the soloist.
For Mira is Werner’s tribute to her friend, the composer and producer Mira Calix, who died last year, but the piece also gives the Aurora musicians the space to explore their personal trove of associations by quietly describing places that have personal significance to them. It’s an introspective piece which grows out of lapping, disjointed chords until the textures threaten to disintegrate, when a pair of bassoons restore order with a consoling lament. It’s a direct, touching act of remembrance.