Rhythm Attack

Living Room Music [Movements 2 and 4]
Prelude and Dragonfly Dance
Arias for Percussion [World premiere]
Omphalo Centric Lecture
How Insensitive

Rhythm Attack

Reviewed by: Josh Meggitt

Reviewed: 30 March, 2006
Venue: Purcell Room, London

Percussion ensembles seem to rely more upon entertaining showmanship and stage presence than do other musicians, making up in vitality and enthusiasm what their instruments lack in harmony and melodic range. Rhythm Attack, as its press release demonstrates, is no exception: “one of the most talented, vibrant and entertaining percussion ensembles in the UK today”. This is all not necessarily a bad thing, however one cannot help but wish percussion could stand taller on its musical properties alone.

John Cage hardly allows music to speak for itself with Living Room Music, scored for magazines, table, books and other assorted household objects. At best this can be amusing, but enthusiasm alone cannot pull it off. Sarcastic comments made afterwards by the group about Cage’s 4’33” and sound-as-music didn’t help matters, and seemed only to be uttered to alleviate embarrassment at having performed this work before friends and family.

‘Earnest’ pieces were performed with greater vigour and panache, but there still remained an aura of ‘school talent show’ about the evening. Prelude and Dragonfly Dance by Australian composer Ross Edwards pointed Eastward, with bowed marimbas imitating Japanese temple bells and busy dancing melodic blocks on marimba and vibraphone. This was a fine piece of standard percussion-ensemble repertoire: light, spacious, pleasant moments recalling wind chimes spurred on by light repetitive rhythms.

The premiere of Timothy Salter’s Arias for Percussion was the highlight, an intricate, varied three-movement piece with an emphasis on pitched percussion coloured and disrupted, at times abruptly, by non-pitched drums, maracas and tambourine. The second movement shifted into film-noir jazz, with shuffling snares and cymbals and moody marimba lines.

Omphalo Centric Lecture by Nigel Westlake, again largely for pitched percussion, was apparently influenced by the simplicity of a Paul Klee image and African balofon melodies. According to the composer, it was intended to “celebrate life through rhythm, energy and movement … like African music”. I’m not sure if that is what African music seeks to do, but I am sure that regimented patterns of bland rhythmic structures mechanistically hammered out, with strict attention paid to not making mistakes is no cause for celebration.

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