Park Lane Group

Chaconne in G
Piano Pieces, Op.119
Fantasy in C, D934
Huw Watkins
Rhapsody No.2
Morceaux de Fantaisie, Op.3 – No.1: Elegy
Morceaux de Salon, Op.10 – No.3: Barcarolle
Moment Musicaux, Op.16 – No.2 in E flat minor; No. 6 in C

Christina Lawrie (piano)

Alexandra Wood (violin) & Huw Watkins (piano)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 11 July, 2005
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

The enterprising Park Lane Group ended its 49th season and heralded the new one. As befits a significant anniversary, Director John Woolf unveiled some innovative plans. The closing “Monday Platform” concert was, using football parlance, of two distinct halves – and no doubt the without-subsidy PLG would welcome a fraction of one percent of the money that is available to the ‘beautiful game’.

Christina Lawrie opened the evening with Handel and Brahms. She had impressed during PLG’s week-long January “Young Artists” series with a from-memory account of Tippett’s expansive Sonata No.4. On this occasion she gave a crisp and unfussy account of Handel, with a more than a nod to its harpsichord incarnation, yet while her playing had feeling and sparkle, as the work progressed she tended to push-ahead with a consequent lack of poise and technique. The Brahms was curiously disjointed at times; Lawrie seemed to be suggesting an improvisatory side to the music, but the first two pieces (both Intermezzos) rambled and the third (another Intermezzo) needed even more of a lighter touch and a sense of humour. (Clifford Curzon’s elfin and witty Decca recording of this teasing piece should be required listening for any pianist – not to copy but to realise possibilities.) In the concluding Rhapsody, Lawrie struggled a little and, as in the Handel, lost composure and accuracy as the piece climaxed.

Of Schubert’s Fantasy, the least said the better. Huw Watkins kept the ship afloat, but Alexandra Wood’s violin was consistently tuned too sharp; the experience was a painful one. Furthermore her playing was less than easeful – ‘scraggy’ came to mind – and the performance as a whole suggested the music as very uninteresting.

The second half was altogether better. Wood made the point of tuning before she played Watkins’s violin-and-piano diptych and again before the Bartók. She was altogether more commanding – with more-varied tone (although the top register is not her strongest point), better tuning, and a more comprehensive technical address. Both of Watkins’s pieces proved very attractive, the Romance rather beautiful, the Tarantella satisfyingly knotty and sinuous; two miniatures that one wants to hear again – hopefully both are included on Wood and Watkins’s forthcoming CD of contemporary British music on the Usk label. The Bartók impressed, too, an earthy and potent rendition that had both gypsy soul and respect for Bartók’s meticulous text.

At this point should have been the intriguing prospect of hearing Sorabji’s transcription for piano of Ravel’s Rhapsodie espagnole. Sadly this was not to be – due to unexplained “unforeseen circumstances”. A real shame. Christina Lawrie offered instead a group of Rachmaninov, the first two selections offering only a glimpse of the mature composer. Lawrie, too, was transformed and was more the musician one had anticipated. She played with considerable style and heart and concluded with the C major Moment Musical, its torrent of notes mastered and the final chord impacted with real temperament.

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