Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 10 January, 2005
Venue: Purcell Room, London
The first night brought some outstanding talent, the early-evening slot (6 p.m.) taken by the Elysian String Quartet (from Trinity College of Music). Aurelio Tello’s Dansaq II (UK premiere) proved pretty inconsequential in its Peruvian folklore-isms but introduced four musicians of verve and confidence, cellist Laura Moody suggesting that she is the rock of the group (compare Bernard Gregor-Smith of The Lindsays). Phillip Neil Martin explored some acerbic musical processes in An Outburst of Time (London premiere) and Dai Fujikura (one of the featured composers this year) went for some grating timbres that added nothing to very little – but at least Midnight All Day only lasted three minutes before escaping into the ether.
The highpoint of the Elysian’s recital was Stephen Montague’s String Quartet No.1: In Memoriam. For ‘amplified string quartet, live electronics and CD’, this 25-minute piece held the attention with some imaginative interaction between the forces and grew from an almost sound-less beginning to the closing disembodied elegy via an accelerating train impression (could it be anything else?) and textural activity that brought seemingly disparate elements to integral synchronicity. Tom Gisbey was in charge of what seemed perfectly co-ordinated electronics.
The main concert was for bassoon and piano, and for piano solo. The latter was Alissa Firsova (daughter of Dmitri Smirnov and Elena Firsova). She included her father’s String of Destiny (Sonata No.4), nebulous and pre-ejaculatory, and made a mistake in playing her own The Endless Corridor immediately afterwards, which went through similar designs. Both works seemed over-pedalled, so too Schnittke’s Improvisation and Fugue, of which the Improvisation is jazzy and unpredictable.
Firsova’s technical ease and her poise are striking. She is impressive, and imaginative, and gave an account of Michael Tippett’s Sonata No.1 that was individual and thought-provoking, if occasionally pedantic. (Tippett’s four piano sonatas are being heard during this Young Artists week.) Firsova, despite that clouding sustaining pedal, found the Beethovenian link both grandly and diversely in the first movement variations and opened up the slow movement very movingly. Although she was at one with the music’s strength and beauty, not least in the Presto third movement, and dealt nonchalantly with technical difficulties, she rather lost the simplicity of the ‘giocoso’ finale, pulling it a little out of shape. But she wasn’t shy of linking the movement to Gershwin, a composer that Tippett much admired, and her belief in the music was encouraging.
Bassoonist Adam Mackenzie and pianist Lefki Karpodini worked well together without quite becoming a duo-partnership; she was just a little too self-effacing and ended up more as an accompanist. He, though, is a big personality and was able to take his chosen pieces to that all-important ‘somewhere’. He had one semi-dud piece, Philippe Hersant’s Niggun, a bassoon solo, attractively lullaby-like but the extended techniques rather scarred the song to little purpose.
Otherwise, Mackenzie played superbly two recent gems for bassoon (and piano!) by British masters, John Casken and Anthony Payne. The former’s Blue Medusa is lyrical, highly-charged, suggestive and idiomatically written; while Payne’s The Enchantress Plays is more hermetic if spellbound, its elaboration and ecstasy beautifully calculated. André Previn’s Sonata for bassoon and piano (1999) ended the first evening on a high – typically, the three pithy movements are witty, inventive and resourceful; the opening movement captivates, the second is a doleful waltz and seems to end as the Rite begins – right up there! – and the finale is of rhythmic side-slips and bluff humour. Mackenzie enjoyed himself and Karpodini matched all the ingenuity that Previn includes for his own instrument.
A fine start to what should be an eventful week.