John Myerscough (cello) & Alasdair Beatson (piano)
Karina Lucas (mezzo-soprano) & Simon Lane (piano)
Heath Quartet [Oliver Heath & Natalie Dick (violins), Gary Pomeroy (viola) & Christopher Murray (cello)]
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 7 January, 2007
Venue: Purcell Room, London
If it’s New Year, it must be PLG! The annual week of performances (this year Sunday to Thursday) that comprises the Park Lane Group’s series focussing on young artists and (mainly) contemporary music is a reliable fixture at the start of January, and this pair of recitals (at 6.15 and 7.45, typically) opened proceedings in the strongest way possible.
The early-evening slot was allotted to cellist John Myerscough and pianist Alasdair Beatson, who assembled a varied yet cohesive 45-minute programme. Accumulation of expressive tension in Witold Lutosławski’s Grave (1981) was a little unyielding, while Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Berceuse (1992) was hardly sensuous in demeanour, but Myerscough hit his stride in a lucid account of John Joubert’s quietly ingenious Divisions on a Ground (2006 – good to see this composer’s 80th-birthday year is being widely celebrated), and a performance of Salvatore Sciarrino’s Ai limiti della notte (1979) – a typically uncompromising study primarily in tremolo and glissando – that held the audience captive for its entire duration. The programme then concluded with a fine account of Elliott Carter’s Cello Sonata (1948) – at its best in the scherzo and finale, where Myerscough’s probing and insightful approach found its ideal complement in Beatson’s rhythmically precise and frequently scintillating pianism.
The main evening slot was, as usual, shared between two groups of performers. The Heath Quartet opened with Thomas Adès’s Arcadiana (1995), now virtually a repertoire piece, and treated here to a committed if at times over-wrought reading. Best were those ‘pastoral Arcadias’ inhabited by the second and sixth movements – with the latter, in particular, bringing a frisson of warm emotion that made it the unexpected climax of the work. Even finer was the account of György Ligeti’s Second Quartet (1968) that concluded the evening. A wide-ranging compendium of his thinking over his first decade of maturity, its five movements can cancel each other out in a performance less attentive to musical interconnections than that by the Heath – the group drawing out motivic and textural similarities of the first two movements, then emphasising the startling contrasts between the next two, with the hushed finale not so much drawing together loose threads as finessing them out of existence.
Even so, the highlight was Aaron Copland’s Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson (1950) – given what is a surprisingly rare complete outing, and a performance by mezzo-soprano Karina Lucas and the pianist Simon Lane which brought out a quizzical humour and understated pathos that are as central to Dickinson’s verse as to Copland’s thoughtfully perceptive settings. Her clarity of diction enabling the nuances of both text and music to be amply savoured, Lucas revealed complete identity with thisunderrated song-cycle that made for a listening experience both pleasurable and absorbing.
She was equally successful in songs by English composers: Peter Dickinson’s Extravaganzas (1969), which sets breezily surrealistic verse by ‘beat’ poet Gregory Corso with no mean imagination, and the same composer’s bluesily unorthodox treatment of the Robert Burns evergreen “A Red Red Rose” – separated by Anthony Payne’s raptly intense setting of Edward Thomas’s “Adlestrop” (1989).
A fine evening’s music-making, then, with the only proviso that the next four instalments of this PLG series will be hard put to maintain the interpretative consistency evinced by the performers gathered here this evening.