Concert Review

Clarion Ensemble/Tim Murray, Royal College of Music. 10 March 2000

Student ensembles can be remarkably enterprising in their programming, an approach which paid fascinating dividends at this concert. The best-known piece of the evening was the first, Lutoslawski's 'Chain I'. Compositionally, this is a virtuoso display of controlled aleatorism - the performers are given some freedom in what they play and when, but the parameters are strictly defined, so that the texture is wholly within the composer's control. Tim Murray understood the structure of this ten-minute piece extremely well - the climax seemed inevitable and the ending dissolved effectively into silence.

Elliot Carter's 'Enchanted Preludes' of 1988 tested the stamina and agility of its protagonists, the flautist Katie Bicknell and the cellist Helen Neilson. However the impression was one of surface virtuosity, and the conclusion seemed peremptory.

Tim Murray's own 'Prayer' for instrumental ensemble revealed a coherent and assured harmonic language, coupled with an ability to conjure an almost palpable atmosphere inspired by a poem by Carol Ann Duffy (helpfully reprinted in the programme).

It was a pleasure to hear pieces by two composers often unjustly neglected in this country - 'Piccola Musica Notturna' by Dallapiccola and 'Refrain' by Franco Donatoni. Dallapiccolla's less-is-more, simple, gestural approach spoke volumes in its restraint (Andrew Mason's half-toned opening clarinet a model of self-control), while Donatoni brought the concert to a haunting close with his 'Refrain' of 1986. This is music that speaks in fragmentary half-lights, punctuated by the obsessive, bass-driven repetitions of the central section.

Chain 1 is available on Virgin Classics VC5 45275-2 (Norwegian CO/Daniel Harding). Dallapiccola's Piccola musica notturna can be heard on DG 447 115-2DH (Gustav Mahler Youth Orch/Abbado), and Donatoni's 'Refrain' is on Etcetera KTC1053 (Nieuw Ensemble).

Colin Clarke

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