The Eye of Fire

Piano Quintet
The Will of the Tones
IS [World premiere]
Liya-pyuwa [World premiere]
String Quartet [World premiere]
The Eye of Fire for string quartet and prepared piano

Rolf Hind (piano) & The Duke Quartet

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 5 December, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Rolf Hind, the artistic director of the Society for the Promotion of New Music, is curator of its “Second Sight” tour, whose sub-title ‘The Eye of Fire’, refers to the ‘third eye’ of Hindu, Buddhist and Yogic mysticism.

Schnittke’s Piano Quintet begins very austerely. Its modernism is dry and assiduously detached – Schnittke refers to this style as “constructive-rational thinking”. At this stage, there is no hint that the work might concern the memory of his mother, Maria Vogel, who died in 1972. As the work progresses, however, the writing becomes more relaxed and varied, though still spare and taut. Schnittke speaks of moving to a “more intuitive and traditionally inclined manner of composition”. There is a waltz-moment and a passacaglia. Kaleidoscopically, he recollects aspects of his mother’s life, interspersed with hints of the son’s changing sense of loss. Hind and the Duke Quartet responded dexterously to this austere yet affecting variedness.

Rolf Hind then played two solo pieces. Jeremy Thurlow’s The Will of the Tones begins with power and a kind of drama. Hind forcefully played several not-apparently-related notes, the germ of the work. Then we move into genesis, as the notes – and others – swirl creatively in the mixing-pot, agitated and as yet open-ended. Finally, and most beautifully, we end in a settled form of soothing gentleness – quite surprising.

Naomi Pinnock’s IS (or ‘Ice’) consists of extremely short pieces. They are terse and barely characterised, delicate and laconic, brittle and throw-away – mostly “non-developed”, says Pinnock: they just “are”.

We then had our ears arrested and challenged in a process of unfamiliar sounds with Shiori Usui’s Liya-pyuwa. The cello was often played near the bridge and Hind had to keep jumping up to do something strange within the interior of the piano with a collection of not readily recognisable objects. Here, East meets West. Overall, the piece has a most intriguing fragility that holds refinement and grace, with occasional hints of something stronger and more stentorian, as a measure of intermingling and mutual creation – acknowledging the omnipresence of Yin and Yang.

Philip Venables’s String Quartet sounded well, doing him credit. I heard it twice before while Venables was a student in composition at the Royal Academy of Music. The three movements are now shaped into an arresting composition. The viola takes command of each movement’s opening, initiating us into a juxtaposition of “violence and lyricism”. The violence intensifies with each movement, while the lyricism diminishes. Along the way, variations of the original “folksy” theme appear, treated with conspicuous musical capability. The Duke Quartet gave Venables’s work a clear performance of studied intelligence.

Rolf Hind’s The Eye of Fire was the summation of the evening, as well as its climax. The six movements are based on Yoga positions – Hero, Cobra, Eagle, Corpse, Nataraja and Child. They depict, variously, the positions themselves, Hind’s meditation on these positions and his physical response to placing himself in these positions. The result is a work of intricate and entrancing strangeness. East meets West once more. We have a dervish-type dance inspired by Shiva; we have a raga-without-tonic; we have unison; we have twanged piano strings and sepulchral knockings; we have a piano solo and, elsewhere, the strings alone. Towards the end, after this parade of diverse and wide-ranging musics and colours, a melody appears: one which apparently had been present throughout. The third eye is opening, showing us a new form of awareness. The Eye of Fire is a spiritual journey, here played with calm and rapt dedication. I would happily hear it again, more than once.

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