George King (piano)
Timothy Orpen (clarinet) & Alison Farr (piano)
Fenella Humphreys (violin) & Helen Reid (piano)
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 11 January, 2006
Venue: Purcell Room, London
No such problems in George Benjamin’s Shadowlines (2002), whose languid prologue was opposed by the brittle harshness the pianist brought to the following movement. An expressive pause introduced the fifth and most substantial of these six canons, and here King was in complete control of the music’s latent power. Even more so in his own Etude No.6 – The Glass Enclosure (2004), any thoughts of David Blaine swiftly banished by a blizzard of notes, swirling chromatically right up to the finish, which was despatched with aplomb.
Providing the main focus of the recital was Magnus Lindberg’s Piano Jubilees (2000), begun initially as a 75th-birthday present for Boulez but soon flourishing into a full-blown suite. The pianist skilfully made reference to earlier figures – Scarlatti in the sharp counterpoint and motifs of the third movement, Chopin in the virtuosity of the fifth. Most impressive were the grand, exotically voiced chords with which the piece closed, given appropriate stature by King for a full-blooded conclusion.
For the second concert a well-devised programme contrasted pieces for violin and clarinet, all accompanied save the world premiere of Luke Styles’s Attempts At Moving (2005). Styles (born 1982) found a willing advocate In Timothy Orpen (born 1983), whose refusal to flinch at a work requiring schizophrenic reactions on the part of the performer was commendable. Knowing asides to the audience were abruptly replaced with shouts and manic laughter, rather taking the emphasis away from the clarinet, but securing the desired audience response. There was a lot of non-pitched hot air, too, but as a tool to shake a potential post-interval slump, the piece worked.
Orpen was superb throughout in fact, accompanied with sensitivity by Alison Farr (born 1980), who secured a wonderful timbre from the inside of the piano at the start of Piers Hellawell’s High Citadels (1994). As their opener the duo performed Martin Butler’s Lovesongs Waltzes (1997), the clarinettist swaying around the stage to the downbeats supplied by his partner. They saved the real blood and thunder for the end, however, in the shape of a near-faultless performance of Peter Maxwell Davies’s fiendish Hymnos (1967). Orpen’s tone ranged from an astonishingly piercing top note to the barely audible depths in which the piece ends, Farr equally athletic in her accompaniment.
These explosive moments were nicely balanced with pieces for violin and piano that enjoyed preoccupation with a dreamlike state in the hands of Fenella Humphreys (born 1978) and Helen Reid (same year). Featured composer Michael Zev Gordon was represented by False Relations, alternating between rest and turbulence with increasingly wide margins. Based on a ‘Pavana’ by Robert Johnson, this was most emotive in the passages that directly referred to this older music, the turbulent sections threatening to mask the stillness until the simplicity of the end.
A sunny disposition pervaded the violin performances, with Anthony Powers’s In Sunlight (1993) an obvious solar reference but less successful in its simultaneous development of two themes, seemingly too short for a ‘theme and variations’, but somehow outstaying its welcome. Far more effective was Hugh Wood’s Poem (1993), deceptively simple and yet deeply passionate, its emotional centre found by Humphreys, her legato line easy to follow and her tone singing to the back of the room. David Matthews’s Aria (1986), meanwhile, deceived in its opening virtuoso cadenza, which promised much but delivered a much softer theme, again lyrically persuasive in this performance. Wood, Matthews and Powers were amongst the six composers present, each somehow negotiating the perils of the overgrown ferns on the edge of the stage to take their applause.