Park Lane Group Young Artists Concerts
5-9 January

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 6 January, 2004
Venue: Purcell Room, London

For music-lovers with a sense of adventure, an interest in what is happening musically today, and a concern for future generations of performers, then the annual week-long Young Artists Concerts are a worthy and intensive way of keeping up to date. The indefatigable Park Lane Group – an organisation not just for January but the whole year, and many of them – has once again put together a presentation for the musically curious.

Expect to see reports on this website covering the whole of this week’s concerts, which are two a day, one at 6 p.m., the other at 7.30, all in the Purcell Room. The two legs of Tuesday, 6 January, proved to be pretty inspiring in choices of repertoire and capability of artists. Pianist Daniel Becker displayed a full range of sensibilities and a complete technique in his early-evening recital, which began with Pierre Boulez’s Incises, in a version considerably longer than the original test-piece written for a competition in 1994 (which Gianluca Cascioli recorded on DG 447 766-2). Boulez’s 2001 expansion now brings a significant 10-minute concert work that absorbs in its contrasts and resolution.

More substantial than its title might suggest, Paul Whitmarsh’s Bagatelle (premiere) seems too fragmentary (on a first hearing) although the (to these ears) witty pay-off makes one want to hear it again. So too Kenneth Hesketh’s Three Japanese Sketches, which may not obviously tie-in with the title but enjoys a sense of purpose and character, qualities not so immediate in Elena Firsova’s rather gestural Elegy and Philip Cashian’s worked-out Four Inventions, the last of which brought Becker’s impressive recital to an explosive finish.

Songs, and music for woodwinds, co-existed in the second concert. Soprano Anna Dennis could not always disguise that she was afflicted by a cold, yet her poise and professionalism didn’t slip for a second. She did remarkably well with John Casken’s La Orana, Gaugin – its intensely declamatory style and ’pitch and effect’ setting of the composer’s own text requires total commitment to meet the sometimes cruel demands – all met by the singer. Elena Langer’s Late Autumn Lullaby 2 (premiere) started promisingly with a ’wind through the trees’ vocalise, although the ’inside’ piano writing added little. Firsova’s Three Mandelstam Texts also began well, with a personal intensity that seemed to look back to the songs of Tchaikovsky, yet come the close it was more Firsova’s calculation that was under scrutiny. György Kurtág demonstrated how much can be said through refinement and economy in Requiem for the Beloved. Anna Dennis and her tower-of-strength pianist, John Reid, surely have assured futures.

It was Kurtág’s Wind Quintet, exacting for listeners and performers alike, that displayed a few weaknesses in an otherwise impeccable show from the Aurora Ensemble. Elliott Carter’s 1948 Quintet was utterly delightful in its pastoral opening movement and exuberant in the second, another work with a teasing conclusion, which brought brilliant individual playing and a real sense of teamwork. Another giant, the late Luciano Berio, delighted the ear with the clockwork mechanisms and beguiling arabesques of Ricorrenze, the players standing and arranged, left to right, oboe, horn, clarinet, bassoon and flute, presumably at the request of the composer, who was very precise about such things.

Joe Cutler’s Verses and Choruses ended the evening on a bright note, music from the Rory Bremner school of composing – the invention veering between Ligeti (his early wind bagatelles) and Malcolm Arnold, with some baroque pastiche, and splashes of (unnecessary) percussion. The lively, very likeable finale proved, if needed by now, that the Aurora is a very talented group.

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