PLG Young Artists – 5

Contemporary music played by Park Lane Group Young Artists


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 14 January, 2005
Venue: Purcell Room, London

The PLG’s Young Artists week came to an ecstatic end with Messiaen’s “Chants de terre et de ciel” courtesy of soprano Ruby Hughes and pianist Lefki Karpodini. Hughes’s voice has an ample dynamic range and a purity of utterance that suits this music well, although her lower range is a tad unfocused. While this reviewer would rather she had sung another cycle (one by David Matthews was originally scheduled) – am I alone in finding Messiaen’s music (a few notable scores aside), however distinctive and recognisable, also limited and transferable from one work to another? – there’s no doubt that Hughes’s vivid communication and stage-presence, and Karpodini’s alert and graphic pianism (although, as for the first day of this week, a little more ‘character’ is needed to touch-up her ‘accompaniment’), brought these five songs alive.

Earlier, Hughes and Karpodini had made a compelling case for Thomas Adès’s “Life Story”; even so, Hughes somewhat contrived the Billie Holliday ‘role’, although she gave a very good impression of the laid-back and impromptu style required. Earlier still, the Kesh Piano Duo, piano/four hands, of Heejung Kim and Esther Sofaer offered a rather short programme of mixed musical quality if consistently fine technical and unanimous performances. Edwin Roxburgh’s Reflets dans la Glace and Dai Fujikura’s Half Remembered City rather cancelled each other out by using similar devices (‘silent’ keys, note clusters, motoric rhythms), although Roxburgh’s Debussy homage left the bigger impression. Altogether more engaging was Nicola Lefanu’s Seven Inventions and a Passacaglia, which indeed, no pun intended, proved memorably inventive: music to seek out for further audition. Graham Fitkin’s Fract had its ‘moments’ but not enough for its 10-minute duration; and at its best in the open-space-suggesting passages.

Which leaves Scottish pianist Christina Lawrie, a wholly natural musician who introduced herself with nothing less than Michael Tippett’s 35-minute Sonata No.4. Lawrie played in last year’s PLG Young Artists Concerts, and here she replaced Warren Mailley-Smith and generously agreed to play his programme, which meant learning the Tippett in just a few weeks. And learn it she did. Playing this titanic work from memory, she was totally on top of the Sonata’s technical demands; and her trust in Tippett’s music, as written, was heartening. Just at the moment, though, she is not fully aware of what the music is ‘about’ and needs to be more penetrative to its core. If she didn’t really ‘arrive’ at the final chord as understandingly as, say, Steven Osborne (he played Sonata No.4 at the Wigmore Hall less than a week earlier), she will, hopefully, continue to study this music; after all, she has it memorised and played it with conviction.

No doubt she brought similar dedication to Dai Fujikura’s Sleeping Ashes (seemingly written in 2000 although dedicated to a lost friend in the Bali terrorist attack of October 2002); suffice it to say that, once again, Fujikura’s machinations eluded this listener. Not so Ronald Stevenson’s Peter Grimes Fantasy, also memorised by Lawrie, in which Stevenson offers no transcription but, rather, an independent welding of motifs from Britten’s opera, mostly from the ‘Sea Interludes’, and focuses on the community’s increasing hostility to Grimes; a refrain sounded from inside the piano is especially haunting.

Stevenson’s 80th-birthday is in 2008; maybe PLG will feature him then, if not before – it would be good to have a concentrated survey of his output. Meanwhile, ‘PLG 2006’, a half-century of achievement, is just around the corner!

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