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PLG 50th Anniversary Season: Carducci String Quartet, Lancier Brass Quintet, Alasdair Beatson (piano), Purcell Room 9.01 2006 (CC)



All credit to PLG for including Henri Dutilleux as one of their featured composers in their fiftieth anniversary season (it is his ninetieth, as he was born in 1916). On this first evening, two major works (one well-known, the other much less so) emerged as the clear highlights of the evening – Ainsi la nuit for string quartet (1977) and the Piano Sonata (1948).

It was the young Carducci String Quartet that gave an impressive Ainsi. The Carducci won the 2004 Finland International Chamber Music competition in Kuhmo and this is indeed an impressive ensemble. The opening 'Nocturne' of Ainsi was characterized by real beauty of sound and a lyric undercurrent that went on to underpin the entire performance. More, they understood Dutilleux' world very well indeed, clearly enjoying the more veiled sections as well as the more angular, even angry ones.

The London premiere of Kurtág's Six Moments musicaux, Op. 44 of 2005 preceded this, proving perfect in its own right. Kurtág's micro-world is endlessly fascinating, and these six pieces emerged as six little jewels. Interestingly, the composer marks the fourth piece ('In memoriam Gyorgy Sebok) to be played 'as if from another world', an instruction that could easily apply to several other movements, particularly the harmonic-prevaded fifth ('Rappel des oiseaux'). The Carducci Quartet really can make tiny fragments speak volumes.

Michael Zev Gordon's Three Short Pieces for String Quartet (no date, but presumably very recent as this was its World Premiere) included tributes to Stravinsky (No. 1)  and Janácek. Even in such a short time-frame (ten minutes all in) the slower music had a tendency to meander, however. More interesting was Joseph Horowitz' Fifth Quartet (another anniversary – the composer's eightieth!). Premiered in 1969 by the Amadeus Quartet, it reflects the theme of flight and danger experienced by refugees from Nazi Vienna. It occupies a bitter-sweet world (most evident perhaps in the shadowy waltz passages) while including a rhythmic impetus that sustains its invention well. Well worth investigating.

The 7.45pm concert juxtaposed brass quintet and solo piano. Such juxtapositions are characteristic of PLG concerts and are frequently illuminating. Just a note of caution here though. It is tempting to suggest that the (solid physical instrument) piano was provided because piano was a dynamic generally missing from the Lancier Brass Quintet's playing. Luciano Berio's Call (1985) had the players standing, spread across the length of the stage trumpets at either end, spitting notes at each other. Very secure playing, undoubtedly.

Timothy Jackson (born 1972) provided a brass response to two Japanese Haiku, taking each line as the starting point for a movement. Fragmentary, gestural and elusive might sum this up, although the absence of the word 'memorable' is rather conspicuous. Dwarfing the invention compositionally, Dutilleux' twenty-five minute Piano Sonata was given a superb account by the young and extremely gifted Alasdair Beatson (who has studied with Manahem Pressler in Indiana). Beatson is very aware of colour and shading, so vital in Dutilleux' music; his definition is beyond criticism (no suggestion of clumsy pedal blurring in challenging passages). He brought out the Messiaen connections at times, while at others celebrating the almost bluesy elements. Difficult to say where Beatson was at his best – maybe the phantasmagoric middle section of the 'Lied', or maybe invoking the impressive peal of bells in the finale (a Choral and Variations). By the end of this performance, the question was surely why don't we hear this major work more often?

Opening the second half was Edward Shippley's The Rite of Lucifuge (1990) for brass quintet. The programme behind the work (a description of the magical Ceremony for the conjuration of the violent spirit Lucifuge as laid down by the Key of Solomon) was in fact far more fascinating than the piece itself. Relentlessly fortissimo at times (ouch!) but not particularly impressive for it, and calling on various techniques that just sounded dated today (hitting the mouthpiece of the instrument to make a 'popping' sound), this became rather tedious at a full twenty minutes duration. I hope the Rite itself is more frightening than this.

If Richard Causton's Non mi comporto male of 1993 for solo piano suffered from lack of harmonic direction, relying instead on the final soft-jazz revelation out of a predominantly grey sky, it was nevertheless well performed by Alisdair Beatson. Infinitely more fascinating were three of William Bolcom's Etudes (1977-86). The spiky 'Hi-Jinks', the huge contrasts of 'Vers le silence' and the modernist 'Rag infernal (Syncopes apocalyptiques)' brought great delight, not least the joy of Beatson's own virtuosity.

John White (born 1931) provided the final (brass) piece, Doggerel Machine, part of a sequence of 'Machines' this composer has penned. Nine movements in eleven minutes, there was plenty of fun to have, culminating in a horn dominated, cor de chasse extravaganza to send us away with a smile. But it is the memory of the Dutilleux pieces that remains from the whole evening.



Colin Clarke


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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)