James Kreiling (piano)
Clariphonics [Louise Haines, Helen Oughtibridge, Helen Pierce & Stuart Smith (clarinets)]
Kiri Parker (soprano) & Elizabeth Rossiter (piano)
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 7 January, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Purcell Room
This third leg in the Park Lane Group’s January week devoted to young artists and 20th/21st-century music got off to a fine start with an early evening recital from James Kreiling. With its inspiration in the fraught emotional world of Nietzsche’s last poems, David Matthews’s Two Dionysus Dithyrambs (2004/7) invites a charged response fully evident here; the second’s hard-won tonal decisiveness being particularly well conveyed. Kreiling was equally ‘inside’ James MacMillan’s Piano Sonata (1985) – harmonically more astringent but also more subtle than his music was soon to become; the combative climax emerging from and returning to its surrounding austerity with impressive sureness of purpose.
Best known as a publisher and as an advocate of the unfamiliar, Giles Easterbrook is also no mean compositional talent – witness the Twenty-five Variations (1979) that are his effective ‘Opus 1’, and which weds the formally systematic and the expressively diverse into a cogent and engaging whole. So too does John McCabe’s Tenebrae (1993), for all that the soundworld – with its antecedents in the late piano music of Beethoven and Liszt – feels a little too unvaried over its 20-minute span. Kreiling had the measure of the piece, however, and his effort was warmly reciprocated by the composer.
The later-evening concert interleaved two, typically contrasting recitals. Only one of several clarinet quartets currently active in the UK, Clariphonics demonstrated why such an unlikely medium should have gained such appeal. Opening with the vividly articulated gestures of Sadie Harrison’s Scathach (The Lady of Shadows) (2005), inspired by the mythical Gaelic warrior and prophetess, the group continued with the resourceful investigation of multiphonics that is Dai Fujikura’s Clari4nics (2000), then the ominously-inflected nostalgia of Haris Kittos’s Toy Escape (2008). If the musicians’ contribution to the second half seemed less distinctive, the textural resource of Robert Fokkens’s Glimpses of a half-forgotten future (2008), the sheer rhythmic verve of Anna Meredith’s Four to the Floor (2005) and the emphasis on purely ‘ensemble values’ in Jim Pywell’s Three Beginnings (1996) each made a highly effective showcase.
The complementary half of the evening was provided by soprano Kiri Parker and pianist Elizabeth Rossiter. Parker is a sensitive and accomplished singer, but she had little idea of how to project her voice in the (admittedly difficult) acoustic of the Purcell Room – so undermining the expressive poise of Elizabeth Maconchy’s song-cycle “Sun, Moon and Stars” (1978) to verse by Thomas Traherne. A PLG commission, John Woolrich’s “A Paper of Black Lines” (2008) was an effective marriage of voice and piano but the subtle ambiguities in setting selections from Laurence Stern’s “Tristram Shandy” proved elusive. More arresting in this respect was “Nettles” (2003), Michael Berkeley’s settings of A. E. Housman and Edward Thomas which exude an appealing and not wholly expected eloquence.
Following the interval, Parker and Rossiter brought out much of the humour and pathos inherent in Nicola LeFanu’s setting of Brendan Kennelly’s “I am Bread” (1980), before Judith Weir’s typically oblique yet highly involving approach to anonymous Spanish verse from the 15th and 16th centuries in “A Spanish Liederbooklet” (1995) enabled Parker further to demonstrate the defter, more sanguine aspect of her artistry.