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S & H Concert Review

Heinz HOLLIGER Beiseit (London première) Joe CUTLER la hora cero .. (world première) Rebecca SAUNDERS Quartet (1998)
Andrew Watts countertenor Gareth Davis clarinet David Farmer accordion
Corrado Canonici double bass Dominic Saunders piano Gregory Rose conductor
Wigmore Hall, 3 April 2002 (PGW)


This was in prospect an attractive contemporary programme. A world premiere of a 2002 composition by Joe Cutler, not yet quite a household name; a work by an expatriate Englishwoman who lives in Berlin, and an unfamiliar one by a respected Swiss oboist and conductor, not really accepted in UK as a composer; predictably this mixture did not bring in the regular, conservative Wigmore Hall clientele, but a warm reception compensated for rows of empty seats; it could have filled The Warehouse.

The programme was cleverly contrasted around the unusual instrumentation for Heinz Holliger's 12 Lieder settings of Robert Walser, composed 1990/91 and dedicated to Kurtag. Holliger wanted it 'inimitably Swiss', so he accompanied his counter-tenor soloist with clarinet(s), accordion and double bass, instruments of a traditional Swiss folk band. No heart-lifting visions of snow mountains; this is a depressed resident for whom the pervasive snow brings no joy, verily a Swiss Winterreise. But the twelve short songs are tender and subtle, Andrew Watts covering a range from high, masculine tenor to baritone and with some passages in muted speech - a voice which might be apt for the ravings of Maxwell-Davies' Mad King, but Holliger's cycle is more considerate to the voice.

The other works had the same three instruments, with piano. I found Rebecca Saunders' Quartet, in a 'sustained, integrated manner, seeking out sonic similarities in contrasted instrumentation' less abrasive than her wont, the trio often providing a halo effect around the dominant piano. Hear the Quartet on her portrait Kairos CD.

Joe Cutler allows more independence and opportunity for his expert players to shine individually, but for a composer previously encountered in a more extrovert vein, la hora cero .. was unexpectedly dark - perhaps reflecting the Piazzola album that inspired it, which I had not heard?

These were well prepared performances, and the effect of each work was undoubtedly enhanced by the warm acoustic of Wigmore Hall, far preferable to some of the venues in which London's new music loyalists regularly gather to support each other. The Holliger cycle should certainly be recorded and the whole programme, unified by its instrumentation, would make an excellent, thought-provoking CD. Any takers amongst our enterprising small British record companies for a programme that is pointedly not nationalistic?

Peter Grahame Woolf

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