Brodowski Quartet [David Brodowski & Catrin Win Morgan (violins), Felix Tanner (viola) & Vanessa Lucas-Smith (cello)]
Eulalie Charland (violin) & Maiko Mori (piano)
Peter Sparks (clarinets) & Matthew Schellhorn (piano)
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 11 January, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Purcell Room
The Brodowski Quartet met the different challenges of both and were hardly less convincing in the Third Quartet (1983) of Alfred Schnittke. The 1980s was the composer’s ‘polystylistic’ period, which approach led to a succession of works that can border on expressive overkill, yet this piece – in its relatively modest formal dimensions and rigorous deployment of quotations from Lassus, Beethoven and Shostakovich – is one of the most enduring. The introductory Andante and charged Agitato were finely rendered, and if the final Pesante threatened to hang fire on occasion, there was no doubting the players’ commitment or conviction. Elegy (1943) by Elliott Carter then brought the recital to a musing close, its gently Coplandesque idiom being one that the composer was soon to leave behind.
The main-evening concert brought recitals for violin and piano, and for clarinet and piano – though the placing of works for the latter on either side of the interval felt less effective than if the two duos had alternated. Peter Sparks had assembled a diverse showcase, opening with the world premiere of Nicola Lefanu’s Sea Sketches (2007) – ten ‘fantasy pieces’ that cover a deceptively restricted range of expression before appearing to come full circle – then continuing with Linoi (1968) that marks the onset of Harrison Birtwistle’s involvement with the Orpheus myth, and in which a basset clarinet (in A) fills the musical space with a plangency the piano overcomes in a confrontation graphically conveyed here. Judith Weir’s Sketches from a Bagpiper’s Album (1984) is a touching tribute to the executed bagpiper James Reid, and if the premiere of Peter Wiegold’s Aulos (2007) impressed more as an event than as music, the interplay of Sparks and pianist Matthew Schellhorn amply confirmed their artistic rapport.
Framing their contribution was that of Eulalie Charland who, together with pianist Maiko Mori, offered a varied sequence that also included Judith Weir – her Music for 247 Strings (1981) opening-out from almost didactic unison playing to melodic freedom over ten brief pieces that confirm the deftness of her early chamber music. Appreciably more demonstrative yet no less resourceful, Philip Cashian’s Wynter Music (2006) calls for a correspondingly greater emotional response that was admirably met here. Nor was the expressive intensity of Hugh Wood’s Poem (1993) played down, though if passing inaccuracies of intonation were not overtly a problem here, a tendency to blur the passage-work of Graham Fitkin’s Bolt (1997) did few favours for music in which rhythmic unanimity and cleanness of attack are essential if an ongoing momentum is to be sustained. Not a piece Charland will likely return to, but she demonstrated an admirable technical and also musical command elsewhere in her recital.