Park Lane Group Young Artists New Year Series 2010

Finzi Quartet (Sara Wolstenholme & Natalie Dick (violins), Ruth Gibson (viola) & Lydia Shelley (cello)]

Huw Wiggin (saxophone) & Timothy Abel (piano)

Meng Yang Pan (piano)
Finzi Quartet. Photograph: finziquartet.com Day Four of this year's PLG Young Artists New Year Series again brought a contrasted assortment of recitals. The early-evening slot featured the excellent Finzi Quartet in two very different pieces. My Day in Hell (2007) found Cheryl Frances Hoad grappling with the implications of Dante's “Divine Comedy” in a diverse yet tautly argued movement structured around the proportions of Hell as its most famous commentator envisioned it. For all that, an element of 'comedy' – at least in the human sense – ensured that the musical response never became overbearing. A striking piece from someone with something to say and the only proviso would be that Hoad might one day find it wanting – not least in the context of Arthur Bliss's Second Quartet (1950) which, if not in itself revelatory, has a depth and seriousness of purpose that bespeaks a composer at his height of his creative powers. Its four movements are nominally conventional in form, but their angle of approach is as distinctive as it is personal, which also holds for a tonal and expressive trajectory hardly to be taken for granted. Heartening to find a piece of such understated maturity being taken up by musicians at the outset of their professional careers, and for whom its considerable technical challenges were confidently surmounted. Clearly the Finzi Quartet is an ensemble from whom we will doubtless be hearing more.
The main evening concert brought two strikingly different performers and programmes. Saxophonist Huw Wiggin had the full measure of the engaging and highly unpredictable variations on a theme of Leonardo da Vinci that are Giles Swayne's Leonardo's Dream (2007), with its airborne final stage summoning an appealingly mellifluous tone, then dispatching Michael Berkeley's Keening (1987) with the appropriate plangent tone. Timothy Abel was the attentive accompaniment in both pieces as well as Andy Scott's Three Letter Word (2009), a tribute to Swedish composer and pianist Esbjorn Svensson with both instruments locked into a pungent though not inflexible post-minimalist groove. Evidently at home across the extent of his repertoire, Wiggin earlier gave Two Memorials by Mark-Anthony Turnage – the wistful, even diffident ‘Trier’ (2000) and the more overtly commemorative ‘Memorial’ (1995), displaying a security of intonation not to be taken for granted with the soprano saxophone.
Closing each half was Meng Yang Pan with two substantial and testing works for solo piano. It was worthwhile to be reminded of Nicholas Maw's past achievements: the Six Personae (1973) are among his most exploratory pieces, deploying a varied though never esoteric keyboard technique in a resourceful series of studies that should have enjoyed greater advocacy. Hopefully this pianist will go on to perform the complete set, as her account of the first three studies had the fastidiousness of touch and the inclusiveness of technique that this music requires. Qualities that were equally in evidence, albeit put to rather different ends, in Helmut Lachenmann's Serynade (1998). Rebarbative and transcendent in equal measure, it places considerable demands on the pianist's ability to realise its instructions while making aural sense of the gulf between sound and resonance. Suffice to say that Meng Yang Pan, whose account of Lachenmann's Wiegenmusik was a highlight of the Royal College of Music's retrospective some three years ago, seemed in total control at all stages of this singular odyssey. Understandable that some punters felt unable to stay the course, but a pity that at least one who did could not have responded with better grace. Not that this affected the warm reception Meng Yang Pan was accorded at the close of an exceptional performance.

 

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