Cinesthesia – Sarah Nicolls (20 March)

Teki [world premiere]
Macabre Scarecrow Solo [world premiere]
’… sofferte onde serene …’
Apparition (extracts)
32 [UK premiere]
Geometry of Pain II [world premiere]

Sarah Nicolls (piano)

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 20 March, 2003
Venue: Purcell Room, London

Sound and vision had a natural complement to each other long before David Bowie coined the term. Its potential for widening the scope of contemporary music, however, has to be judged against the possibility that each cancels the other out. In “Cinesthesia”, Sarah Nicolls played it both ways – in a distinctive and, for all its unevenness, engrossing recital.

Teki (2003), a Dai Fujikura/Tomoya Yamaguchi collaboration, eased us gently into the delights of mixed media. Fujikura’s music simmered with intricate, often cryptic figuration, against which Yamaguchi’s actual and abstract images threw up intriguing parallels and contrasts. Piano unadorned for Luke Bedford’s Macabre Scarecrow Solo (2003) – a study in disjunctive sonorities, and almost a rhythmicised counterpart to the integral serialism of old.

Nicolls played with suitably reckless abandon, then gave a searching rendition of Luigi Nono’s ’… sofferte onde serene …’ (1976). The gateway to the inwardly intense masterpieces of the composer’s last decade, it superimposes live piano with a tape ’alter ego’ created in collaboration with Maurizio Pollini. The music follows a poetic yet systematic trajectory, graphically represented here by Kathy Hinde’s accompanying film – which failed to enhance the music with its representation of dynamic resonance. Not a distraction, but the music is surely complete as it stands, and it would be good to hear Nicolls perform it as such.

After the interval, extracts from George Crumb’s typically hieratic Apparition (1979) featured the silky vocals of Lore Lixenberg, and a film by Joan Key and Jayne Parker which gave a poetic gloss to the perpetual waiting at tube stations (the indicator for Stanmore being much noticed by your reviewer). Passingly evocative, but it was good to get back to ’un-visualised’ music – particularly as Stuart MacRae’s 32 (2002), the number of fragments which coalesce into its five movements, is quite the most varied and coherent set of short pieces to emerge in years, and could become a vehicle for practitioners of modern piano music everywhere.

Exploring the notion of ’constraint through history’, Alwynne Pritchard’s Geometry of Pain II (2003) utilises elements of Beethoven’s Op.111 piano sonata in an exploration of creative anxiety both moving and disturbing, and received a suitably perceptive performance – even though the accompanying film of hand manipulations fell somewhere between a relaxation video and a Benetton commercial. The programme closed with Benjamin Wallfisch’s Duo (2002), designated a ’funky toccata’ in which piano and tape gel with all the subtlety of a “Music Minus One” track, and which might have worked better had it been played as an encore.

So, a fair range of music, a wide assortment of visuals and even greater food for thought. Whatever else, Nicolls deserves credit for such an innovative programming concept – one that would be worth pursuing alongside more conventional recital presentations. With this in mind, her debut DVD is much anticipated.

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