Contemporary music played by Park Lane Group Young Artists
Carducci String Quartet
Lancier Brass Quintet
Alasdair Beatson (piano)
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 9 January, 2006
Venue: Purcell Room, London
If a post-Christmas ‘reality check’ is needed, then the Park Lane Group’s week-long “New Year Series” offers just this. Over five days, with concerts at 6.15 and 7.45 in the Purcell Room (and, this year, some lunchtime ones too), PLG celebrates young musicians and contemporary music.
In PLG’s 50th-anniversary season, this latest ‘week’ could not have got off to a better start. The Carducci String Quartet gave a very impressive recital, the four musicians each articulate and influential and unanimous and equable. Two elder-statesmen composers were heard first, György Kurtág, 80 this year, and Henri Dutilleux, 90; both men are masters of exquisite perfectionism, the Carducci equally masterly of dynamics, colour and texture.
Kurtág’s 6 Moments musicaux (London premiere) proved a compelling mix of largesse and economy, every gesture and effect brilliantly managed and made part of a whole; similarly the atmosphere and finesse of Dutilleux’s Ainsi la nuit was brought into musical and structural focus. Not such a good idea, though, to place these works’ similarities side-by-side. Michael Zev Gordon (born 1963) provided a first performance with Three Short Pieces, the first engaging in its mechanical rhythms, but the spectre of Stravinsky hovered too obviously, just as Janáček’s did later, albeit admitted to by the composer. Joseph Horovitz (also 80 this year) provided integration and personality in his String Quartet No.5 (1969), the composer’s Viennese background prominent in the contrasted sections – richly lyrical, reflective and anguished; if the music had a tendency to ramble at times, there was no doubting Horovitz’s heart and compositional skills, the sprightly composer in attendance.
The Carducci Quartet left a big impression, a group that will no doubt grace London’s recital rooms on numerous future occasions. So too Alasdair Beatson (born 1984) who gave an exceptional account of Dutilleux’s Piano Sonata, a fabulous piece, one played from memory and with a command and dedication that was a revelation as to this music’s expression and volatility, Beatson developing a dazzling esprit over the work’s three movements. He also gave (with scores) a compelling account of Richard Causton’s Non mi comporto male – music that unveils a popular ‘standard’ cleverly and concisely (a translation of the title will give the game away, or see the Causton link below!) – and the seemingly outrageous if always idiomatic demands of three of William Bolcom’s Etudes.
Bolcom’s technical challenges are enshrined in musical outpouring, not something that Timothy Jackson (born 1972) always managed in his longer-than-anticipated 2 Haiku, which actually had six movements; and length was also the downfall of the late Edward Shipley’s The Rite of Lucifuge, which had some striking moments but was eventually distended by squiggles and tedium. Both are pieces for brass and here the Lancier Brass Quintet (two trumpets, horn, trombone and tuba) displayed impressive sonority and teamwork (if not the ultimate in synchronisation) but misjudged the Purcell Room’s immediate acoustic and were, put simply, too loud at times. The group’s best music was fore and aft, Berio’s Call, a sit-up-and-take-notice piece from 1985, the players required to stand in a line (trumpets antiphonal), a significant gap in between each, and parade a range of dynamics and mutes. Doggerel Machine by John White (born 1931) ended the (long) evening on a light note, a sequence of vignettes, some more punctuation than a ‘proper’ movement, and including a lung-filling cadenza for the tuba (Michael Levis), and a sense of novelty that was diverting.