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S & H Recital Review

Zivkovic, Tanaka, Pugnani, Stevens, Sierra, Abe, Evelyn Glennie (percussion), Philip Smith (pf), Wigmore Hall, 7th July 2003 (MB)

The penultimate Monday morning concert of this Wigmore Hall season was something of cracker: visceral, energetic, exciting music-making in a hallowed hall perhaps not used to such recitals. As Evelyn Glennie herself pointed out (this was partly an illustrated recital) the scale of the Wigmore stage makes a percussion recital a difficult affair to manage, but she did so with her customary panache (and a near capacity crowd, a rarity for these concerts even when the most distinguished soloists play, received it rapturously).

The opening two pieces – Nebojsa Zivkovic’ Fluctus (1988) and Toshimitsu Tanaka’s Two Movements for Marimba (1965) – were delivered with the kind of velocity and breathtaking ease for which Glennie is famous. The former, for two mallets and a five octave marimba, the latter for four mallets and a four octave marimba, both strive for different effects: Zivkovic’s work, with its 27 tone progression, is deftly built around a tonal sound picture, whereas Tanaka’s much earlier piece recognises a very different soundscape. Glennie negotiated the virtuosic difficulties of both, but it was Tanaka’s piece which yielded the most impressive tone colours. Listening to how Glennie articulated a mirage of imagistic sound in the slow movement, and conjured, even within that, shadows of sound that seemed like restless echoes and pulses, was miraculous.

Gaetano Pugnani’s Praeludium and Allegro, in which Glennie herself transcribed the violin part for vibraphone, had an eerie beauty of texture – something that could not be said of Roberto Sierra’s Los Destellos de la Resconancia (2000) for cymbals (six of each suspended and on the floor and cymbal discs pitched high). The piece utilises the aggressiveness of brash strokes against more subtle strokes to create a ‘perpetuo momentum’ of contrasting timbres. The piano emulates the cymbals as far as it can – but is often more effective when it is playing in dense clusters at the bottom end of the keyboard. What is also noticeable about the piece is the use of ‘white noise’ – in part achieved through the suspension of any tonality, but also through the use of different pitch colorations (for example, the use of a bow against the rim of a cymbal). As a composition it is often searing, but often ugly too.

Sandwiched around this work were Leigh Howard Stevens’ Rhythmic Caprice and Keiko Abe’s Prism Rhapsody (1995). Although Stevens’ work was his first for the marimba it is both cultured and inventive (three new ‘col legno’ effects – the use of a birch handle against the edge of the bar instead of the mallet head, the mallet head and handle used simultaneously and the use of the entire length of the handles – added to the simple but polytonic sound world of the work). Glennie’s performance of it might not have sounded as the composer wished, however, since she sliced through its complex tics and splashes with Japanese style power whereas Stevens approaches the work with greater subtlety and less dynamic heaviness.

No such problems with Abe’s Prism Rhapsody which was given an inspired account, full of drama, poetry and passion. From the spectral opening, almost electro-acoustic in its atmospheric nuances, to the blistering cadenza and the red-hot fiery coda this was a performance which gripped. With the ravishing piano accompaniment (this was originally written for percussion and orchestra) adding a sonorous and melodic background to the occasionally harsh and brutal marimba tones, this came across as a striking masterpiece. A final encore – of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee – brought the curtain down on an utterly memorable recital.

Marc Bridle

This concert is repeated on BBC Radio 3 on Sunday 13th July at 1pm. Colin Clarke will review the final lunch time recital, Imogen Cooper playing Beethoven’s Variations on La stessa la stessima Wo073 and Schubert’s Sonata in A D959, on 14th July. Tickets from



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