Lendvai String Trio [Nadia Wijzenbeek (violin), Yivali Zilliacus (viola) & Marie Macleod (cello)]
Fiona Asbury (saxophone) & Paul Cassidy (piano)
Charles Watt (cello) & Nathan Williamson (piano)
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 11 January, 2007
Venue: Purcell Room, London
The final day of concerts in the Park Lane Group’s New Year Series once again brought a blend of artistic excellence and enthusiasm, with two imaginative programmes of variety and substance.
First up was the Lendvai String Trio, playing four works from the last thirty years. The most recent of these was a world premiere: Cheryl Frances-Head’s The Ogre Lover. A response to Ted Hughes’s poem of the same name, the work is a fusion of seven short movements completed last year. Its slower music finds melodic links to Berg in its use of tritones, while the lively faster music is often propelled by energetic cello lines. Cellist Marie Macleod it was who also supplied the evocative guitar effect with which the piece ends, a self-confessed whimsy on the part of the composer but one not outstaying its welcome.
Preceding this was a work by this year’s featured composer Howard Skempton, his Winter Sunrise actually a warmly elegiac piece opening in the manner of a Frank Bridge ‘idyll’. The light cantabile style of the Landvai suited this appealing interlude, though the central section felt a little cautious.
Caution was thrown to the wind, however, for Penderecki’s String Trio, the brutish chords of the main idea answered by long-breathed solos on each instrument. The excellent ensemble, with Nadia Wijzenbeek leading impressively, ensured the central idea of the scraped chords made its impact, and the second movement fugue, whilst in clear debt to Shostakovich, began in obdurate fashion under the viola of Yivali Zilliacus, its powerful unison finish reaching a firm footing in G minor.
This provided a good contrast with the first work. Leif Segerstam’s substantial body of chamber work gets little concert time, and the improvisatory Second String Trio suggested that rewards can be found within. The Lendvai had clearly spent some time getting beneath the surface of the passionate music, which, although it contains melodic and harmonic references to early Second Viennese harmonies, retains a sense of individuality. Segerstam book-ends the piece with distinctive melodic material, and its heady unison climax is affecting.
Whilst the second concert was a bit too long it was nonetheless helped by the commitment and obvious enjoyment of the four players involved. Saxophonist Fiona Asbury contributed three pieces with pianist Paul Cassidy, the most successful of which was Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Two Elegies Framing A Shout. Asbury’s agility was already impressive in the first elegy, while the second, lifted from music played at the funeral of the composer’s brother, was smoother in line and more expressive. The dramatic ‘shout’ ended atmospherically with Asbury playing into the lid of the piano, the resultant reverberations received by a rapt audience.
Gary Carpenter’s Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano is a carefully structured three movements, and both players impressed in the fast virtuoso unisons of the ‘Danse Macabre’ finale. Asbury’s breath control in the coda helped secure an affecting finish, whose softly oscillating music refers back towards the mood of the beginning.
Graham Fitkin’s Gate, if overplaying its ideas a little, is nonetheless a good example of this composer’s semi-minimalist approach, taking lively, rhythmic ideas for the saxophone over Cassidy’s energetic, pointed accompaniment.
Complementing the pieces for saxophone were cellist Charles Watt and pianist/composer Nathan Williamson, whose Two Gestures of 2006 were performed here. With the programme note proving somewhat inconclusive the gestures themselves threatened to behave likewise, with both parts performing independently but coming together effectively at the end in a clever juxtaposition of C and D flat pitches.
More effective was the recent Rhapsody of Benjamin Wallfisch, written for his father Raphael and performed here with plenty of verve. Clearly in three sections, the cello writing is strong throughout and given passionate advocacy by Watt, who occasionally hit the string with the stick of his bow too much, but through sheer commitment more than anything else. Williamson meanwhile was a match for the cascade of notes with which Rhapsody begins.
Watt sat alone for Skempton’s Six Figures, a response to Bach’s cello suites. A clear example of “less is more”, the miniatures are most affecting, none more so than the third study, in harmonics, little more than 25 notes in total but sparsely affecting.
Finally, Britten’s Cello Sonata proved an effective twin of technical display and interpretative insight, with Watts leading the way in a first movement of nervy energy, a slow movement that demonstrated a fulsome middle range of the cello and a ‘moto perpetuo’ of energy and verve. An invigorating performance to end a stimulating evening of music.