Daniel Tong (piano) & Chinook Clarinet Quartet.
PLG at Purcell Room, 13 January.
Petros Moschos and Dimitris Karydis (pianos); Ovid Ensemble & Ilana Jacobs with Rebecca Sweeney 14 January
Daniel Tong gave good accounts of the meditation on Dowland's In Darknesse Let Mee Dwell by Thomas Ades (now famously enriched in USA, a PLG Young Musician in 1993)) and David Matthews' Piano Sonata (1989), written for William Howard with that pianist's Schubert playing in mind. Clear and spare in texture, constructed with fifteen short, interlinked sections, this was a welcome reminder of a fine work of ten years ago.
The Chinook Clarinet Quartet made a good case for a medium that can sound harsh without careful tone control. Eddie McGuire's Celtic Knotwork (his alter ego is Scottish traditional flutist in The Whistlebinkies) is built from unison beginnings to a 'cascading dialogue of dancing phrases'. Thoroughly enjoyable, and particularly welcome after the disappointment of his accordion concerto at Huddersfield. It was well contrasted with an original and individual work by Edwin Roxburgh, Heliochrome (1989), which was uncommonly successful in translating a visual experience into sound. Its inspiration was the play of light from stained glass windows at Liverpool, with 'a purple beam like a laser, surrounded by an ocean of coloured haze'. Roxburgh used extended techniques, with a preponderance of high harmonics as a halo within which melody emerged. The quartet managed it extremely well, without the difference tones becoming oppressive. A very successful South Bank appearance.
Petros Moschos and Dimitris Karydis had disappointed expectations of their two-piano recital by substituting for the programmed Zimmermann a dull and derivative piece by a Montenegro-born composer, Zarko Mirkovic. They took no account of the Purcell Room's size and the reflectivity of its walls in their attack upon Theodore Antoniou's Concerto for two pianos. This work by a hitherto unknown 'prominent Greek composer' was overlong and under-inventive, raising concern about the health of the contemporary music scene in their country since Skalkottas?
The Ovid Ensemble
Alun Darbyshire Oboe Mia Cooper Violin David Adams Viola
Alice Neary Cello Jeremy Young
The Ovid Ensemble (oboe, string trio and piano) has a good, varied repertoire to tap for groupings within this combination. With careful preparation and good listeners to each other, with awareness of the hall's acoustic, they brought also programming skills to ensure a good, cohesive hour of music making. Their sensitivity was especially welcome after the relentless onslaught by the two Greek pianists earlier in the evening.
The Chaconne (1989) for piano quartet by Colin Matthews was for me the best example of this featured composer's music heard during the week. It claims to solve the 'problematic balance issue' by restricting the pianist to his left hand, and set the tone for transparency and clarity which was a touchstone of this group's playing. (If they admit a clarinettist or second violinist friend as an extra player in an extended Ovid, one of Franz Schmidt's magnificent piano (left-hand only) quintets would go well with this Matthews piece).
Robert Keeley's Dances with Bears, to 'an imaginary ursine choreography' were 'light hearted and light textured'. They would bring a smile to audiences anywhere, and the composer, taking his bow, looked suitably like a friendly Teddy! John Woolrich's Box of Phantoms were typically spare miniatures, with embedded tiny quotations from Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart. Kate Romano's Masque II (1999), composed for this occasion, was based upon Renaissance procedures, and brought the Ovid Ensemble's set to a rousing conclusion with a Gavotte, Pavane and a final Branles which mixed its ideas in independent tempi.
The PLG week was brought to a music-theatrical finish by Ilana Jacobs, who emerged from total darkness in a sequence of costume changes. Convincingly over the top as Alison Bauld's Lady Macbeth sleepwalking, she became an infuriating modern chatterer with mobile phone in two of Georges Aperghis's Recitations. For James Clarke's Disembodied Poetics she conducted a sexy and apparently fraught love affair with her impressive head of red hair, but her final nod towards the BBC's Weill weekend at the Barbican, Surabaya Johnny and Alabama Song, was underpowered and anticlimactic.
Peter Grahame Woolf
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