S&H ConcertReview

Park Lane Group Young Artists Concerts South Bank Centre, 8-12 January 2001 (RW & PGW)

Another new year, another crop of newcomers to bear the proud Park Lane Young Artist accolade, which they regularly feature in concert programme CVs. We are reminded of their illustrious forbears in a listing at the front of the week's programme, and these include many a famous name on the international celebrity scene to conjure with. These January concerts are always reviewed by leading London critics (see Seen&Heard's coverage of the PLG Millennium 2000 series) and they are attended by a convivial assembly of people who all seem to know each other, a gathering of composers, publishers and talent spotters who descend upon the Purcell Room in droves; it is the place to be! Latterly the PLG Young Artists are recorded by BBC R3 for future broadcasting and more sober re-appraisal.

There are no prizes or awards, apart from the important opportunity to be heard by key players in the music business and to play unfamiliar contemporary music in a supportive setting, free from commercial imperatives which restrict normal concert programming. The tried and trusted formula is unchanged; five evenings in succession - one soloist or a group takes the first hour (an opportunity for imaginative and unified planning) and two take others turns in the later full length concert with interval. The programmes are built collaboratively by the artists and advisers from PLG's Artistic Committee. This year 60 works by 50 composers were offered, with 11 premieres including several commissions. 15 sets of artists (33 individual musicians) had been selected by audition of over 200 candidates; most fulfilled high expectations, a few did not quite come up to proof, probably because of nervousness. The Seen&Heard team was not able to cover every evening, so this is a sampling, unfair unavoidably to those left without a mention.

The week started magnificently with a solo unaccompanied violin recital by So-Ock Kim, born 1982 in Seoul but a Londoner since early childhood. She progressed via the Purcell School to the Guildhall and has been making prestigious professional appearances for a decade already. She showed her mettle in Carter's Riconoscenza for Petrassi, with notable accuracy and a rock-steady bow arm, and continued with Ferneyhough's Intermedio alla ciaconne, defeating its intention to present 'a literally unplayable image'! This cutting edge music held no terrors and her harmonics were impeccable. A more listener-friendly image was presented by Nicholas Maw in his half-hour large-scale Solo Sonata of 1997. The first movement has a melody in high harmonics, handled with aplomb, and the next was capricious, suggesting Pagannini (and also Britten). Next, the contrast of mute playing without vibrato and double stopped trills (reminiscent of Prokofiev's first concerto) and a moto perpetuo finale with cadenza. PLG programmes have always featured unaccompanied solos, and I recall two other violinists, Stephanie Gonley and Mieko Kanno who made their marks in the 6 p.m. hour, which precedes the later shared concert at 7.30. A Greek pianist Eleni Liatsou (now at the Royal College of Music in London) warmed up with her countryman's popular early Little variations (his later, more innovative piano pieces are disgracefully little-known in UK- something for the PLG to remedy another year?) but she displayed far more character in music specially learned for this recital. Phillip Grange's Piano Polyptich is an exciting work, which will repay fuller study by listeners to grasp its structure, which combines several pieces in a continuous whole with blurred junctions. In fact, two pieces are often played virtually simultaneously, with eventually 'two decks moving at different speeds'. Boulez's Incises was incisive indeed, and I confess to preferring it to the later elaboration, and Messiaen's virtuosic Cantyodjaya was despatched with clarity and musicality.

Josep Sancho studied clarinet in Barcelona and London and has a successful career in Spain. He showed his credentials in Kate Romano's Clockwork Toys and Context VI by Albert Llanas, and in duo with a strong pianist, Lila Galling, ending with early pieces from the '60s by Birtwistle & Maxwell Davies. They shared with another duo, Dmytro Tkachenko (violin) & Alexei Grynyuk (piano), well equipped musicians trained in the Ukraine and later in London. Of particular interest was their choice of John Casken's Après un silence, a substantial work in several sections - the piano part was later orchestrated. (PGW)

Wednesday's early evening concert brought Chroma, an eleven-piece ensemble featuring several previous PLG soloists. The austerity of Diana Burrell's Double Image left only a passing impression, while Alasdair Stout's Empty Fathoms had a fastidiousness of rhythm and texture akin to a latter-day Roussel. Tansy Davies's Undertow was elusive and engaging, maintaining a fine balance between rhythmic impetus and harmonic allure. Following this, Sea Change was typical Anthony Payne in its unobtrusive arch of activity against an atmospheric harmonic backdrop. Philip Cashian's Creeping Frogs, Flying Bats and Swimming Fish promised an ingenious succession of ensembles-within-an-ensemble, but lacked the tension between sections necessary to sustain the concept. All credit to Chroma for putting together a diverting sequence: their first CD, due out on Riverrun Records this spring, should be worth investigating.

Wednesday's main offering was divided between pianist Sarah Nicholls and the duo of violinist Alexandra Wood and pianist Huw Watkins. Sarah Nicholls impressively sustained the rapt but intense mood of Oliver Knussen's Sonya's Lullaby, though seemed to lose the thread in David Sawer's The Melancholy of Departure, its capricious gestures never quite coalescing. Sustained resonance gave Jonathan Cole's Trapdoor something of a studied skittishness which Nicholls responded to, whereas she failed to bring out the ideas behind the pianism in Philip Cashian's Four Inventions.

Alexandra Wood made a strong showing, opening with David Matthew's Three Studies, robustly lyrical and inventive pieces that really bring out a performer's personality. Daniel Georgetti's Dialogue exhibited an attractive wit, posing Hugh Watkins numerous problems of co-ordination. Watkins met these head on, and in his own Violin Sonata demonstrated a sure command of a difficult medium. If the piece failed to leave a stronger impression, this was due to following on from Poem by Hugh Wood, a compact piece which typifies his approach to tonal expression. Alexandra Wood effortlessly conveyed its mood of passion suffused into tranquillity: she is clearly a musician to watch out for. (RW)

Richard Whitehouse & Peter Grahame Woolf

Seen&Heard is part of Music on the Web(UK) Webmaster: Len Mullenger Len@musicweb-international.com

Return to: Seen&Heard Index  

Return to: Music on the Web