Whilst always applauding the Park Lane Group concerts that are now a regular ritual at the beginning of each year – for their single-mindedness, for introducing some highly talented artists (a short glance at the list of past performers contains some of the most familiar names in the musical world today) and for encouraging the performance of new music – there are times when I wonder just how much care is taken with matching artists to repertoire.
A case in point was the 7.30 concert on 8 January when the piano-duet team of Waka Hasegawa and Joseph Tong tackled Anthony Gilbert’s very difficult and rarely-heard Sonata No.2 from 1967 – doing neither themselves or the work any favours at all. Quite apart from the sheer complexity of getting the notes in the right place, the piece involves the placing of objects inside the piano, changing positions, and twanging and dampening the strings – in short, very much a piece of its time but certainly not without interest. Except on this occasion when delivered in the most deadpan manner and seemingly without any thought about the importance of physical movement. The muting of the piano and moving around took forever; quite apart from making the sonata much longer, this destroyed any sense of flow that a reading of the score suggests the piece undoubtedly has.
The duet had another up-hill struggle with the world premiere of Jonathan Powell’s Notturni tascabili. This is perhaps best described as some sort of paraphrase on ’O mio babbino caro’ from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi – that was clearly the composer’s intention as his rather grand programme-note explained. Powell is a considerable pianist himself, something of a champion of such exotics as Scriabin and, particularly, Sorabji. He is also it seems a lover of the operatic fantasias that once flourished in the hands of such masters as Liszt and Busoni. However, his seemingly endless collection of arabesques, trills and the like outstayed their welcome long before such comparisons came to mind. The no-holds-barred quotation of the aria was on the one hand tasteless and on the other a welcome relief from the pointless excesses that went on before and after. It must have been a thankless task to learn such a monstrosity and the players at least deserve praise for that. Sadly the other piece in their programme, Joe Duddell’s energetic and incisive Vaporize, lacked the rhythmic precision and vitality that made it such a winner at its premiere at a Proms 2000 lunchtime chamber concert.
Sharing this PLG concert was the cellist Richard Harwood, already, at 22, a very considerable artist, with an engaging platform presence, bags of musicality and a striking command of the many and varied techniques that his programme demanded. Martin Butler’s miniature Siward’s River Song said more in its five minutes than most of the rest of the concert put together – what a fine and underrated composer he is. Dominic Muldowney’s new A Sad Pavane For These Distracted Times was impassioned and sadly-resigned as befits its title. Harwood showed a sure command of left-hand pizzicato, multiple stopping, humour and pathos – not to mention the odd dance-step (!) – in Judith Weir’s folk-inspired Unlocked, a little long but typically resourceful and inventive. Finally Philip Grange’s Nocturnal Image; again, despite having longeurs, this made a striking impression and showed off the breadth of this young player’s technique and command of colour – Richard Harwood is a name to watch for.

 

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