Richard Uttley & Alex Wilson (piano)
Rosanna Ter-Berg (flute) & Leo Nicholson (piano)
Muse Piano Quintet [Ilya Movchan & Ksenia Berezina (violins), Iona Bondar (viola), Jordan Gregor (cello) & Yulia Vorontsova (piano)]
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 9 January, 2012
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Purcell Room
Although Park Lane Group’s well-established and well-attended New Year Series remains at ten events over five days, the (now free) early-evening slots are this year filled by masterclasses and conversations. In the first masterclass Thomas Adès listened to performances of his Traced Overhead (1996) and Three Mazurkas (2009) and then commented on them. Alex Wilson played the former, Richard Uttley (replacing the indisposed James Sherlock) the latter. Both pianists brought assurance to their tasks, leaving the composer clutching for things to say. A few revealing observations aside, the thirty or so minutes seemed too impromptu although it was good to hear Adès’s always-intriguing music, not least the recent Mazurkas, Chopin redefined and a tribute to Emanuel Ax’s homeland. Time allowed for a second go at the Mazurkas, but it was not to be.
It was Adès’s impressive 20-minute Piano Quintet (2001) that concluded the evening. From its opening Baroque gestures for first violin to the resolute coda – building-blocks back in place – the Muse Piano Quintet bid us listen to the work’s intricacies and the musicians’ dedicated perceptions of them: the rich if fractious expression, the mechanisms bidding for space, the echoes of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, a Schubertian melody for piano thornily counterpointed in the strings, all leading to an incandescent climax and a troubled aftermath. Earlier, the Muse musicians had hit the bulls-eye with Gerald Barry’s Piano Quartet No.1 (1992) – violinist Ksenia Berezina not required – beginning in throwback style to furious Irish fiddling, kicking off a piece full of whimsy, inebriation, pulsation and madcap slithery interaction. If even over a mere twelve minutes there seemed a surfeit of leprechauns, Barry’s rhythmic machinations inveigled the listener in this brilliantly sustained performance. (The ensemble was also due to perform Francisco Coll’s Cuando el niño era niño (2008); the composer was present but, for reasons not stated beyond basic information, the piece was not played.)
Flautist Rosanna Ter-Berg in many ways stole the evening. She produced a full and fruity sound without losing the instrument’s silvery quality and played with unstinting virtuosity and personality. André Jolivet’s Chant de Linos (1944) found Ter-Berg’s flute seducing us. She unerringly caught the volatile mood-swings, brought off with devilish bravado. If the term avant-garde still has any currency, then it came to mind during Edwin Roxburgh’s Flute Music with an Accompaniment (1986), populated by note-bending, harmonics and flutter-tonguing. This is music of heightened expression and rapidity, sometimes nightmarish, but also engaging in its unpredictability, for limpid lyricism blossomed later. It was a pleasure to hear the elegant craftsmanship of David Matthews in his Duet Variations (1982), beginning from deep in the forest, suggestive of cool breezes, restlessness turning to impishness and a witty pay-off. In all of these pieces, Leo Nicholson accompanied with assurance and sensitivity, always part of the picture and never tilting the balance his way, although at times he couldn’t quite match the presence and personality of Ter-Berg. She ended her contribution with an unaccompanied piece for piccolo, Patrick Nunn’s Sprite (1998) that found her walking away twittering agilely – and very nearly was not seen again.
Once again, PLG has introduced us to some outstanding young musicians and to worthwhile music that otherwise might not come our way.