Park Lane Group Young Artists New Year Series – 2

Contemporary music played by Park Lane Group Young Artists

Veya Saxophone Quartet

O Duo [Oliver Cox & Owen Gunnell, percussion]

Eaton-Young Piano Duo [David Eaton & James Young, pianos]

Reviewed by: Josh Meggitt

Reviewed: 10 January, 2006
Venue: Purcell Room, London

It should come as no surprise that so much “classical” music for saxophone concentrates on rhythm, as the instrument is inextricably associated with such rhythmic music as jazz and Rhythm and Blues. The Veya Saxophone Quartet (its name derived from the “ancient god of wind”) tackled a series of contemporary works for saxophones (soprano, alto, tenor and baritone) the majority of which was dominated by jazz influences.

Joe Cutler’s (born 1964) Screaming 229a (1997) closely resembled John Adams’s Short Ride in a Fast Machine; a lively staccato pulse pushed it along nicely but this momentum was too frequently interrupted with unnecessary pauses. Rhythm and Blues (1993) by Gabriel Jackson (born 1962) offered the most obvious debt to the American tradition, but its strictly composed idea of “blues’” prevented any real swing. A long duration and audible audience snoring didn’t help matters. But the quartet really soared in more open works. Tristan Keuris (1946-1996), unknown to me, proved a revelation: his Music for Saxophones (1986) is an involved, jagged and energised exploration of the instruments’ various qualities. Sustained high-pitched tones played on alto and soprano frequently combined to provide untold pleasure to my vibrating eardrum – more might have caused pain, but this was joyous! Richard Rodney Bennett, 70 this year, provided us with his Saxophone Quartet (1994), a similarly freely-structured piece concerned with shifts in dynamics and beautifully played by all performers.

Piano duos and percussion duos came in the main concert, in various formations. After Bongo Fury 2006, an entertaining improvisation by O Duo (percussionists Oliver Cox and Owen Gunnell), pianists David Eaton and James Young offered a captivating performance of Henri Dutilleux’s Figures de Resonances (1979). This piece offers an investigation into the sound-making potentialities of the instrument – from tiny pings and subtle pedal depressions to sublimely spaced bolder gestures – and shows Dutilleux to be a composer acutely aware of the properties of sound and performance. At times evoking the emptiness of Feldman, Dutilleux is willing to take more risks and get into dirtier areas of musical exploration. Luciano Berio’s Linea (1973) for two pianos, vibraphone and marimba continued in this reductionist vein: the four instruments start off from the same point, only for their thin melodic paths to unthread and become entangled before completely – and with minute precision – deconstructing. The following work, Kenneth Hesketh’s (born 1968) ambitious Vecherinka for 2 pianos in 5 hands (2005 – world premiere) successfully evoked the party scene in Gogol’s “The Overcoat”, filled as it is with dense and rambunctious ragtime hammering and card-playing gestures – all relished by Eaton and Young.

Two percussion duos followed: Michael Zev Gordon’s (born 1963) well-paced Resolution (2004) had O Duo resembling a pair of toddlers in a toyshop, scrambling for sticks and mallets between gongs, drums and cymbals. György Ligeti’s Sketches III, VII and VIII for piano, here transcribed for vibraphone and marimba by O Duo (world premiere), showcased Ligeti’s lighter, more absurdist side: marionette-like movements from performers and a sound comprised from mechanical marimba loops and fifties’ exotica-style vibraphone melodies evoked both circus carnivals and Carl Orff’s Schulwerk.

Bartók’s Sonata for 2 pianos and percussion was the night’s tour de force. While the dramatic opening was slightly undermined by hurried playing from all performers (nerves?), this was more than compensated for by the sublime musicianship displayed throughout the rest of the piece. Eaton and Young were astounding (as indeed they were for the entire concert), particularly so during the cluttered propulsive sections in the first and third movements; colouring by Cox and Gunnell was delivered with a superb touch of weight and sensitivity. On tonight’s evidence, these performers are ones to watch.

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