Risør Festival of Chamber Music at Wigmore Hall [Sunday]

Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, Op.5
The Rite of Spring [arranged for two pianos]
Under City Skin
Symphony No.2

Martin Fröst (clarinet) & Marc-André Hamelin (piano) [Berg]

Leif Ove Andsnes & Marc-André Hamelin (pianos) [Stravinsky]

Lars Anders Tomter (viola) [Wallin]

Risør Festival Strings
Per Kristian Skalstad [Honegger]

Reviewed by: Colin Clarke

Reviewed: 28 November, 2010
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

The Risør Festival at the Wigmore Hall concluded with this long concert (although by all accounts not the longest of the Festival). On paper the programme was fascinating and stimulating. The experience itself provided something of a reality check.

Martin Fröst. Photograph: Mats BäckerThe most memorable playing came from Martin Fröst in his hyper-nuanced account of Berg’s Four Pieces. Almost Webernesque in brevity and yet absolutely Berg through and through, each of the movements constitutes a miniature miracle. Fröst’s beautiful sound, his exemplary breath control, his exquisite pianissimos and his complete understanding of Berg’s lines resulted in a complete attuning of man and music. If only Leif Ove Andsnes could boast the same. His playing was routine and, if not exactly unfeeling certainly several grades of sensitivity behind Fröst.

Marc-André Hamelin. Photograph: Nina LargeIt was the thought of Andsnes and Marc-André Hamelin in the two-piano version of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring had the greatest appeal on this freezing night. That fascination soon paled, however. Textures congested at times. It was interesting to more easily hear how lines interact, in both contrapuntal and decorative ways, and at times there was a primal aggregation of sounds. In pianistic black-and-white, the cohesion of Stravinsky’s harmonic language seemed obvious. But there was nothing too involving on an emotional plane, nothing to link us to the earthy world of a pagan Russian winter ritual, an impression thrust home by a ‘Sacrificial Dance’ that only hinted at excess.

From recordings, I have come to know Norwegian composer Rolf Wallin’s music as thoroughly intelligent yet visceral in impact. My disappointment in the piece for Viola, Strings and Surround Sound called Under City Skin (2009) can hardly be imagined. Lars-Anders Tomter is an expert violist who made the most of the endless viola shapes in this purported exploration of hidden meanings behind the cities we know. The electronic sounds were either clever-on-one-hearing (recorded sound of someone’s steps setting the tempo for the music – once the witticism has been heard, it will simply be predictable or ‘clever’ in the negative sense) or derivative of Stockhausen’s early electronic essays. True, the Stockhausen reference gave something of a warm, nostalgic glow but Wallin is not Stockhausen. At half-an-hour, Under City Skin lasted far too long for its materials and inspiration.

Nice to see a full ensemble squeezed onto the Wigmore Hall’s platform for Honegger’s Second Symphony (1940-1). The trumpeter (an ad lib part) in the closing measures, Huw Morgan, played from one of the doors at the back of the stage. There was a wonderful feeling of community music-making. The sighing gestures of the central Adagio mesto were movingly delivered. A pity the music’s radiance was never quite honoured. The finale, though, was nicely alive.

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