Katie Stillman (violin) & Simon Lane (piano)
Bella Tromba [Nicole Lyons, Josephine Harris, Clare Helsdon & Victoria Curran (trumpets)]
Daniel Browell (piano)
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 8 January, 2007
Venue: Purcell Room, London
The second pair of concerts of the Park Lane Group’s invaluable year-beginning new artists/new music series slightly misfired in that the trumpets and piano second recital proved too long. The premiere of Howard Skempton’s sweetly lyrical Alveston would have been an ideal winding-down conclusion; but this was followed by four more choices (three had appeared earlier in the evening) from Mauricio Kagel’s quirky Fan-fan-faren, which overdid the exposure to four trumpets! Bella Tromba (four young ladies from the Royal Academy of Music) seem to know no barriers and dealt heroically with the demands that the group’s chosen composers threw at them (although high notes ‘cracked’ from time to time).
Whether one fanfare too many or not, those by Britten (for St Edmundsbury), Stravinsky (for a New Theatre) and Tippett (For the Four Corners) all stood out musically, while Paul Max Edlin’s new The First Four Trumpets was little more than effects and stridency. More engaging was Robin Holloway’s Melody with Echo with an idea that begins like “Greensleeves” (maybe by Henry VIII and certainly arranged Vaughan Williams!). Joan Tower’s Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No.5 proved heartily American in its ceremony and evocation.
Giles Easterbrook’s Ancient Battlefields (premiere) similarly stirred the emotions, as did his programme note regarding memory, war and his recently-deceased, century-reaching mother. Ancient Battlefields, with echoes of Panufnik’s Sinfonia Sacra (Symphony No.3) is fascinating in its ambiguity of war-like calls-to-attention and the inward “memory music”. I missed the quote from Delius’s A Mass of Life but got what seemed to be “The Last Post” (heard from backstage – quite a few of these trumpet works called for antiphonal effects and various perspectives). Ancient Battlefields isn’t just for four trumpets; it’s for a variety of trumpets and a flugelhorn (the latter somewhat underused, maybe, certainly in relation to its haunting use in Vaughan Williams’s Ninth Symphony) and, to cue an unexpectedly surreal ending, an electric fan to breeze some wind chimes, a foot-operated bass drum, a ‘sands of time’ tube, and a bell that would normally summon assistance in a hotel lobby. Ancient Battlegrounds demands a second performance.
So too does André Tchaikowsky’s Inventions (a first for this writer), which Daniel Browell included in his contribution. Poland-born and naturalised British citizen, Tchaikowsky (1935-1982) left enough recordings to testify to his individual musicianship as a pianist (Bach, Haydn, Chopin, et al); but composing was his first love, and these 10 pieces (each to a friend, whether musician or not, and including Tamás Vásary) suggest that an exploration of his music should be sooner than later. In terms of ideas and organisation, all 10 creations held the attention over the 22-minute span. Browell, playing from memory, gave what seemed an immaculate and thoroughly absorbed rendition. Using the score, though, his account of George Benjamin’s Fantasy on Iambic Rhythm (another first for this listener) seemed unusually discursive for this composer; I’m told Browell added two minutes to the composer’s recording. There was much to engage in Philip Venables’s The boy with the moon in his eyes, four studies (an on-going series) that have titles that were not revealed here!
The early-evening concert was a somewhat mixed affair with a question mark over Katie Stillman’s violin tone, if not in the deliberately ‘rough’ timbres employed by Paul Whitmarsh in the whims and fancies of All these confessions… in which interest was not fully sustained although the unaccompanied and mute-utilising third piece ‘I’ve only the friendship of Hotel Rooms’ made a simple and direct contact with the ‘human condition’. Pianist Simon Lee (making his second PLG appearance this year) was an equal partner. Following pieces by Colin Matthews (Chaconne with Chorale: sinuous and eloquent; and Moto Perpetuo: driving) and Toru Takemitsu (From Far Beyond Chrysanthemums and November Fog: ethereal, poetic and exquisite), the latter finding Stillman accurate and expressive in the highest registers, Lutosławski’s masterly Subito (one of his last works, from 1994) was given a quite brilliant performance revealing the music’s web of fantasy and energy in the most compelling way.