Park Lane Group Young Artists New Year Series 2012 – 4


Lawson Trio [Fenella Humphreys (violin), Rebecca Knight (cello) & Annabelle Lawson (piano)]

Belinda Williams (mezzo-soprano) & Christopher White (piano)

Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

Reviewed: 12 January, 2012
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Purcell Room

The penultimate evening of the Park Lane Group’s January series brought a veteran composer, long resident in American, back to these shores: Thea Musgrave. Musgrave contributed to a pre-performance discussion entitled “How To Write an Opera!”, sharing the experience of composing her ten operas with three young composers and chair Elaine Padmore. Hanging over the conversation was an awareness of the difficulty of funding operatic projects; as Musgrave put it, “it ain’t cheap!”. Practical solutions were suggested: the discussion touched on the increasing tendency for smaller scale chamber operas and one composer on the panel, Jasper Brownrigg, spoke about his YouTube opera, sung by himself and produced on his computer.

Bookending the evening’s main concert were the Lawson Trio performing all of the programme’s most recent items. Mark-Anthony Turnage’s A Fast Stomp (2004) was a punchy opener, built on a scherzo-with-trio format with jazzy syncopations contrasted with music that stuttered a machine-gun attack. New York composer Nico Muhly’s Common Ground (2008) received its UK premiere; another energetic work. Muhly spent time working with Philip Glass as an assistant. This work doesn’t dispel the suspicion that he has ingested a great deal of the styles of other minimalist forebears, Steve Reich and John Adams. He’s undoubtedly a very talented composer, but whether he has a unique voice remains to be heard. And the end of the concert, the Lawson musicians returned to give the first performance of the revised version of Gordon Crosse’s Piano Trio (1993/2010). Crosse returned to the work after meeting this ensemble, refining and paring it into a more concentrated exploration of the same material. The trio stems from Crosse’s fascination with the motivic repetitions of the music of Beethoven, Brahms and Stravinsky, but his careful balancing of the revised structure ensures that the repetitive elements do not pall. Certain sections call to mind the music of Bartók and Schnittke; like the latter, the textures are spare but engrossing. Typically, the Lawson Trio’s grip on the music’s challenges was firm and persuasive.

Belinda Williams Christopher White certainly made the most of their slot, covering four composers in seven pieces. The best came first, Britten’s Charm of Lullabies (1947), five songs setting lullabies from the conventional (William Blake’s A Cradle Song) to the downright sinister (A Charm by Thomas Randolph). The cycle showed the best of Williams and White: her clear diction and direct tone uncluttered of excessive vibrato well matched by White’s sensitive and finely shaded pianism. Thea Musgrave’s music was represented by two early works, ‘Aria’ from Cantata for a Summer’s Day (1954) and the stark and alarming A Song for Christmas (1958); never can the new of Jesus’s birth have sounded so cataclysmic. ‘Rit’s Aria’ from the opera Harriet the Woman called Moses (1984) skilfully sets the vocal music of the piece’s protagonist (a freed slave escaped to the north of nineteenth-century America) on a different but interwoven plane: the vocal line suggesting the simplicity of a spiritual, with the accompaniment commenting around it.

Janice Hamer’s Daughter, Awake with the Moon II (1989-90) displays the composer’s eclecticism, ending, stylistically speaking, quite some way from where it had started. Hamer’s cycle of three songs traces stages of the life of a woman, built from extracts of poems by Julia Budenz, who died in 2010. Finally from Williams and White came two short comic songs by Lord Berners, Red Roses and Red Noses (c1941) and Come on Algernon (1944). The humour certainly seemed antiquated; the latter dealing in thinly veiled innuendo, so obvious that The Two Ronnies would have thought twice before broadcasting it, while in the former, Berners’s music tended to eschew the verse’s wit with his expansive harmonisation. But they brought the biggest cheer of the night.

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