For the penultimate concert of the 2002 Park Lane Group Young Artists Concerts (6pm on 11 January), the Tippett String Quartet (Patrick Savage & Alison Dods, violins; Rebecca Chambers, viola; Bozidar Vukotic, cello) performed four varied works by four very different composers. Two of the pieces worked well, those by Martin Butler and Simon Holt; the others, by Deirdre McKay and Cecilie Ore, presented soundworlds that have been encountered so many times before that, to my ears, they sounded harmonically and gesturally tired.
The opening viola solo of Martin Butlers Songs and Dances from a Haunted Place (1988), eloquently played by Rebecca Chambers, reminded one that Butler studied with Berio (was that a quote from the Italian masters Folksongs?). Butlers piece divides into two movements. If the jig of the second part didnt really catch fire in this performance, the sustained improvisatory feel of the first part, conjuring up the image of a ghostly Irish fiddler sitting on a rock on a deserted moor playing his haunted ethereal fiddle was beautifully realized both by the quartet and the composer.
Deirdre McKays Little Sails (2001) explores the harmony that grows out of the most prominent harmonics of string instruments. Ligeti, Bartok and Part were recalled. Although there were some effective moments of antiphonal ensemble writing the four movements didnt seem to reflect McKays own personality in any engaging way. Cecilie Ores Praesens Subitus (1989) also suffered from being overshadowed by other music, specifically George Crumbs Black Angels but with none of its theatrical flair.
The final piece was Simon Holts Two Movements for String Quartet (2001: London premiere). The titles of the two sections, taken from an Emily Dickinson poem, are Blue...uncertain stumbling Buzz and The Stillness in the Room reflected in the frantic virtuosity of the first one (led by the heroic viola solo of Rebecca Chambers) and the frozen, extraordinarily-static second. The various levels of interconnection in the pieces as the musical ideas are mutated make this a deeply satisfying and compelling work that was certainly the highpoint of the Tippett String Quartets recital.