Cello Variations I
The Long and the Short
Fidelio Trio [Darragh Morgan (violin), Robin Michael (cello) & Mary Dullea (piano)]
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 9 June, 2008
Venue: Conway Hall, London EC4
The American composer Charles Wuorinen has never enjoyed much exposure in the UK (despite the best efforts of several leading musicians – Oliver Knussen in particular), so all credit to the Fidelio Trio for putting on this recital to mark Wuorinen’s seventieth birthday – and on the day itself.
If Wuorinen’s music follows in any particular lineage, it would be that of Elliott Carter in density of argument and intellectual rigour, though the younger composer is very much his own man when it comes to a personal idiom and a particular sound. Such is evident in the Six Pieces (1977), whose salient motifs intently coalesce and expand over the set as a whole; a process of elaboration that was pointedly underlined in this commanding account from Darragh Morgan and Mary Dullea. Robin Michael was no less assured in Cello Variations I (1970),a highly concentrated and formally oblique sequence in which the ‘theme’ is made evident by the emphasis on linear expression towards the close. The suavity of Self-Similar Waltz (1977) was deftly brought out by Dullea, with Morgan and Michael no less attentive to the gently insistent irony that informs the brief Album Leaf (1976).
The concert’s second half brought what was probably the musical highlight of the evening with Fast Fantasy (1989), whose technical demands Michael had himself described as “insane” but which he and Dullea dispatched with audible conviction; not least because, even at its most exacting, Wuorinen’s music is never without an emotional dimension to direct and open-out the virtuosity (hence the link with Carter). Following this, The Long and the Short (1969) made for a diverting though hardly relaxing contrast – its teasingly inscrutability thoughtfully brought out by Morgan – before the evening ended with the Piano Trio (1983), another highly compact entity which nonetheless touches on Classical formal essentials, and with an almost Brahmsian harmonic richness that was rightly in evidence here.
So, a well-planned and finely-executed recital of music that is never likely to enjoy a large following but rewards and (albeit in the most involved sense!) entertains those willing to take the time to make its acquaintance. Hopefully the Fidelio Trio will be able to record at least some of these performances before too long, and if the musicians should have the opportunity to put on a similar retrospective devoted to the late, great Ralph Shapey – aesthetically a ‘first cousin’ to Wuorinen – then so much the better.