The annual week-long Park Lane Group celebration of Young Artists Richard Whitehouse reports
Park Lane Group Young Artists Concerts 6-10 January (RWs Report)
Friday, January 10, 2003 Purcell Room, London
Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse
It seems fitting that the PLG Young Artists Concerts and the Orthodox Christmas take place at much the same time. Theres something reassuringly consistent about both launching the New Year with a sense of anticipation about whats to come. This years PLG week made a point of not having featured composers, though it was a welcome move to include music by Janet Owen Thomas whose sudden death last year at only 41 has deprived us of a significant compositional voice in the making. Otherwise, the format was the familiar one of early- and mid-evening concerts the latter shared between two musicians or groups, and making for some quirky but engaging contrasts.
Proceedings opened with the Gallimaufry Ensemble, who made a strong impression with a late-night recital at Almeida Opera last June. A demanding programme opened with Harrison Birtwistles Five Distances - its Ivesian intricacy of discourse well conveyed, even if the platform of the Purcell Room made for limited spatial separation. The performance of Elliott Carters Quintet made up for a lack of subtlety in instrumental interplay with a strong sense of cumulative momentum, to which the forceful but expressive pianism of Iain Farrington contributed in no small measure. Between these seminal works from the early 1990s came the Wind Quintet by Benjamin Wallfisch, written for the Gallimaufry and revelling in timbral extremes to the extent that any real formal logic proved elusive.
Monday evenings concert was emphatically one of contrast. Harriet Mackenzie articulated the stylised Yiddish gestures of Adam Gorbs Klezmer with winning clarity, and proved equally at home in Anthony Paynes Of Knots and Skeins attractive in its craggy lyricism. Robert Fokkenss Irreconcilable Truths made moving emotional capital out of the tonal disparity between violin and piano, while Louis Andriessens Disco gave Mackenzie the chance to let her hair down in a suitably visceral account, marred only by an edge to the amplified violin tone.
Either side of the interval, Sarah Watts gave a protean demonstration of the capabilities of the bass clarinet. Three of the works were written for the great Dutch player Harry Sparnaay, but Watts was undaunted by the extremes of register and gesture in Franco Donatonis deceptively-titled Soft, and kept a firm grip on the prolix variation sequence of Cornelius Cardews Mountains Bach and Mao Tse-tung inspiring one of the more durable works from late in his curtailed career. A pity that the piece Watts herself had commissioned, Marc Yeatss Vox, never strayed beyond the bounds of an elaborate technical exercise, but Michael Smetanins Ladder of Escape brought her contribution to a vibrant ending in a welter of pre-recorded bass clarinets and "happy disco music".
Wednesday evening opened with a well-planned recital from the Spengler Piano Trio. Pascal Dusapins Trio Rombach (who? what? where? the composer purposely provided no programme note) employs basic intervallic and rhythmic patterns in music of finely judged harmonic astringency. Inspired by an Oscar Wilde poem, Britta Byströms A Symphony in Yellow written for the occasion crosscut expressive gestures in a trenchant and uninhibited manner. Philip Granges Piano Trio made its Homage to Chagall via analogies of technique rather than aural representation. A substantial work, the airborne scherzo and elegiac threnody framed by movements of free-ranging moods, it brought out the musicianship of the ensemble in full measure integrating form and expression to a degree for which Grange has few equals.
Having appeared as a cellist in PLG 2000, Matthew Sharp returned as a baritone in four very different works. Errollyn Wallens The Warm and the Cold is a diffuse setting of a not overly inspiring poem by Ted Hughes (the repetition of words and phrases seeming to serve little purpose), while Pete Wylers treatment of Ben Okris An African Elegy felt more a vehicle for Sharp as singing cellist than a composed setting in its own right (does anyone remember Paul Torteliers Anthem for Peace from recitals during his last decade?). The feline-inspired Three Songs by Mark-Anthony Turnage pithy, whimsical yet with a deep underlying pathos were a delight, while the four (out of a projected ten) settings of Salvatore Quasimodo that will comprise Richard Caustons La Terra Impareggiabile had an emotional force allied to a musical depth which raises his music onto a new level of achievement. Throughout, Viv McLeans pianism was that of a natural accompanist.
The other half of the evening was taken by Matilda Tullberg, whose effervescent flute playing was ideally suited to the aural choreography of Thea Musgraves Narcissus digital tape delay weaving an suitably bewitching ambience around the soloist. Julian Andersons The Colour of Pomegranates inspired by Sergey Paradjanovs film of that name puts the alto flute through a variety of discreet and atmospheric gestures: altogether more coherent than Simon Holts alternation of instruments in his capricious if unfocussed Maiastra inspired by Constantin Brancusis eponymous sculpture. To end a recital with Pierre Boulezs Sonatine still fearsome after all these years might be thought to be tempting providence, but Tullberg gave her all in a performance whose explosive energy was countered by an expressiveness which was Gallic in spirit if not in demeanour. The understated pianism of Marcus Andrews complemented her playing to an admirable degree.
Cellist Robin Michael pulled no punches in his early-evening slot on Thursday. Roger Redgate took the work of Francis Bacon as his starting point in Study for a Triptych, exploring three types of music with gritty ingenuity. Following a not dissimilar formal trajectory, Elena Firsovas The Night Demons is altogether less rebarbative in its emotional profile. Elliott Carters Figment enshrines many of his harmonic and rhythmic preoccupations in music whose diversity belies its modest length. Michael was equally committed in Bernd Alois Zimmermanns Intercommunicazione (which received a memorable performance in this series by Zoë Martlew some years back); as alive to the glowering intensity of its bands of cello sound as to the coming-together of cello and piano in substance if not in spirit. After such intensity, the sparse gestures of Morton Feldmans Durations II felt suitably cathartic. Michael is clearly a performer with a future as is Sarah Nicolls, whose sustained concentration explained just why she is among the most highly regarded of younger British pianists.