Park Lane Group Young Artists New Year Series – 5

Contemporary music played by Park Lane Group Young Artists

Amy Dickson (saxophones) & Catherine Milledge (piano) with Jill Morton (piano)

Melissa Doecke (flutes) & Mary Callanan (piano)

Simon Thacker (guitar)

Reviewed by: Rob Witts

Reviewed: 13 January, 2006
Venue: Purcell Room, London

One of the pleasures of the Park Lane Group ‘New Year’ series is the variety of repertoire performed; this the final concert of the week shared between the flute and piano pairing of Melissa Doecke and Mary Callanan, and the solo guitar of Simon Thacker, was certainly varied. Thacker (born 1979), with a dour but charismatic stage presence, opened with the Brazilian Edino Krieger’s Ritmata (1974). Composed as a counter-blast to the trend at the time for amorphous, free-form scores, the piece is a highly rhythmic toccata that exploits the guitar as a percussion instrument, and was well-served by Thacker’s quietly virtuosic intensity. In contrast, Nigel Osborne’s After Night (1997) developed the Jewish song “Shema Yisroel”, with its association with the Warsaw ghetto uprising, into a poignant meditation.

David Fennessy’s Security Blanket for solo guitar, commissioned for the concert, revealed an original compositional mind, and made familiar chords strange by subtle de-tuning of the strings, though the material was stretched a little thinly. There were two pieces played in dedication to the late Susan Bradshaw. The first was Roberto Gerhard’s 1957 Fantasia (for guitar), which put me in mind of Dallapiccola in its sensuous deployment of serial techniques. The second, rather more substantial, was Giles Swayne’s 15-minute Canto for solo flute (2000), a reworking of his choral work Ophelia drowning. It is a formidable test of a performer’s stamina and technique, to which Melissa Doecke rose faultlessly, pacing her performance from the work’s fragmented beginning to its shattering conclusion.

Julian Anderson’s short nocturne The Colour of Pomegranates was a delight, weaving a silver-edged alto flute into sonorous piano chords. Henri Dutilleux’s familiar Sonatine (1943) was sweetly engaging, but Carl Vine’s empty, facile Sonata (1992) sounded like a bad parody, fifty years too late.

Earlier, saxophonist Amy Dickson and pianist Catherine Milledge gave an accessible recital whose programme could have benefited from a little more variety. Michael Csanyi-Wills’s Alto Stratus (2005) and Rhian Samuel’s Songlines (2002) were both well-crafted works, but their formal and idiomatic similarities diminished their individual impact. Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Two Elegies Framing a Shout (1994) stood out, showing character missing from more recent orchestral scores. Graham Fitkin’s Hard Angel for saxophone and two pianos (2005) was as witless as most of this inexplicably overrated composer’s music, a tedious blend of Mike Oldfield pop-minimalism and Meatloaf piano-thumping.

The playing throughout was of the very highest standard – as one would expect from musicians chosen by the Park Lane Group.

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