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Quartet Quintet
Steve REICH (b. 1936)
Quartet (2013) [17:36]
Chick COREA (b. 1941)
Duet suite, arr. Simon Carrington (2018) [8:57]
Joe LOCKE (b. 1959)
Her Sanctuary (2012) [8:02]
Makoto OZONE (b. 1961),
Kato's Revenge, arr. Carrington (2018) [6:22]
Gwilym SIMCOCK (b. 1981)
Suite for Percussion Quintet (2019) [38:34]
LSO Percussion Ensemble
rec. March 2018 & February 2019, Jerwood Hall, LSO St Luke’s, London
Reviewed as a 24/192 download from hyperion-records.co.uk
Pdf booklet included
LSO LIVE LSO5090 [79:31]

My interest in percussion music was sparked by an SACD called Kroumata Encores, released in 2005 (BIS). A musical and sonic treat - and a fine advert for the new format, too - it’s a must-hear for anyone interested in the genre; indeed, it may even convert those who aren’t. Then again, there’s so much interesting repertoire out there, not to mention a number of first-class ensembles. Among the latter is the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet, whose recent album, Beyond, contains cutting-edge pieces of real distinction and character (Sono Luminus). Such groups are fiendishly difficult to record, yet the BIS and SL engineers have come up trumps; the Kroumata collection, ideally balanced, has a gorgeous colour palette and a compelling presence, while the LAPQ one displays fearless dynamics and crisp, unfatiguing transients.

The LSO Percussion Ensemble, their players drawn from the ranks of this distinguished orchestra, have already recorded a Steve Reich album for LSO Live, which I’ve heard but not reviewed. And even though I’m not a great fan of minimalism in general or this composer in particular, I found much to enjoy in that initial volume. Clapping and Music for Pieces of Wood are judiciously done, while Sextet is extremely varied and colourful. Yes, there are more extrovert/charismatic performances to be had, but in mitigation the LSOPE offer unfailing musicality and a terrific sense of ‘being there’, qualities that are bound to please.

On to this new collection, and Reich’s jazzy, upbeat Quartet - written for the Scottish percussionist Colin Currie - finds the LSOPE in funky form. The two pianists, Gwilym Simcock and Joseph Havlat, are particularly strong here, the overall sound even more immersive than it was in the first album. Moreover, imaging is very precise, with an excellent stereo spread, revealing a tumble of ear-teasing timbres. And for those who don’t usually cleave to this repertoire, the introspective middle movement demonstrates just how imaginative - and interesting - it can be. The finale is a taut little toe-tapper, the players communicating their enjoyment at every turn.

Group member Simon Carrington’s arrangement of jazz pianist Chick Corea’s Duet Suite, is faithful to the original, its jazz roots never in doubt. Goodness, this is virtuoso musicianship, the range and sophistication of Jonathan Stokes and Neil Hutchinson’s recording a joy to hear. Her Sanctuary, by the New Yorker and world-renowned jazz vibraphone player Joe Locke, is similarly assured, both as a piece and as a performance, one’s ear constantly drawn to its felicitous rhythms and iridescent colours. (Locke arranged this version specially for the LSOPE.) As for Carrington’s arrangement of Kato’s Revenge, by the Japanese composer and Oscar Peterson fan Makoto Ozone, it has a rippling, easeful charm that’s hard to resist, particularly when the playing is this good.

At 38:34 the Welsh composer Gwilym Simcock’s Suite for Percussion Quintet is the longest and most intriguing piece here. Written for the group at the behest of its leader, Neil Percy, the performance recorded here is also its premiere. Simcock, who’s a jazz pianist by training, is simply splendid in the pensive solo at the start. This piece, too, is an homage to jazz musicians. More than that, though, Simcock’s sound world is a fiercely individual one, its shape, momentum and nicely judged improvisations beyond reproach. And given the composer’s background, it’s hardly surprising that the piano - powerfully present - is the driving force here. This is music of strength and stature, tightly knit and bristling with a charge that only the best concerts can provide. (There are haunting, wonderfully transparent passages as well, the shifting moods and dynamic swings perfectly calibrated.) In short, a performance that turns an otherwise enjoyable collection into a very desirable one.

A varied and vibrant programme, impeccably played and recorded; percussion albums don’t come much better than this.

Dan Morgan

 
Performers
Quartet
Neil Percy (Vibraphone 1), Sam Walton (Vibraphone 2), Gwilym Simcock (Piano 1), Joseph Havlat (Piano 2)

Duet Suite
Neil Percy (Vibraphone 1), Sam Walton (Vibraphone 2), David Jackson (Marimba 1), Simon Carrington (Marimba 2)

Her Sanctuary
Neil Percy (Vibraphone 1), Simon Carrington (Vibraphone 2), Sam Walton (Marimba 1), David Jackson (Marimba 2), Philip Moore (Piano)

Kato’s Revenge
Neil Percy (Vibraphone 1), Sam Walton (Vibraphone 2), David Jackson (Marimba 1), Simon Carrington (Marimba 2)

Suite for Percussion Quintet
Gwilym Simcock (Piano), Neil Percy (Vibraphone, Marimba, Hang Drum, Drumset), Simon Carrington (Vibraphone), Sam Walton (Marimba, Vibraphone), David Jackson (Marimba)

 

 



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