Five Folk Melodies
Siksika [European premiere]
Pero’s Bridge [World premiere]
Divertimento for Strings
Rivka Golani (viola)
Trinity Laban Conservatoire String Ensemble
Reviewed by: Tully Potter
Reviewed: 15 March, 2011
Venue: St George’s Church, Bloomsbury, London
Before this interesting programme of string music entitled “Postcards from…”, we were treated to a living postcard by half-a-dozen members of the Blackfoot nation from Alberta in Canada, who sang and danced and told us a little about their way of life and their history of repression by the colonisers. Native American culture is certainly fascinating, although I was amazed to learn that the Blackfoot method of hunting buffalo was to drive them over a cliff.
Nothing so extreme happened in the concert, which began with Peter Sculthorpe’s vivid evocation of the Australian landscape in his Third Sonata for Strings, based on his Eleventh String Quartet. The mewing glissandos and other Sculthorpian effects were well-handled by the young players. I detected some roughness of rhythm and ensemble in the first movement but the second featured lovely solos by principals Artem Kotov, Monika Urbonaite, Grigory Tsyganov and Aleksei Kiseliov.Lutosławski’s Five Folk Melodies, the second played pizzicato by violins and violas, were wittily conducted by Nic Pendlebury, Trinity’s head of strings. The pieces are almost too brief, making a change from those composers who insist and insist.
Benjamin Ellin introduced his Siksika (the Native American name for Blackfoot), which was receiving its European premiere with Rivka Golani, its original soloist. Ellin, who hails from Bolton, admitted that he had needed to swot up on Canada in general and the Blackfoot in particular, after being commissioned by the Windy Mountain Music Festival. He was inspired by his idea of the Canadian landscape, genuine Blackfoot songs and the account of a historic battle between the tribe and their white conquerors. Golani is the ultimate ‘good sport’ when it comes to tackling new repertoire: she must have given more premieres than any other violist and she invariably delivers a committed performance. Here she was rewarded by some grateful solo lines, with lyrical slow music and admirable faster music, in an approachable idiom; and she played it all impeccably, even though Ellin frequently tested her with passages high on the A-string. She was well supported.
After a sensitive account of Arvo Pärt’s familiar Summa, Matthew Gordon introduced the premiere of his Pero’s Bridge, named after the bridge in the Floating Harbour, Bristol, which commemorates the slave Pero Jones (1753-98). A postgraduate composition student at Trinity Laban, 22-year-old Matthew – who is black and comes from Bristol – told us that the piece picked up on his own family background as well as Pero and his native city. He deployed the notes for B-R-S-T-L (B flat-D-E flat-B-A) very cleverly in a haunting piece which, in its shimmering surface, betrayed none of the hard work that had obviously gone into it.
Finally Pendlebury took his players through an enthusiastic rendering of Bartók’s Divertimento, fiery in the outer movements, tonally beautiful in the Molto adagio and again featuring fine solo work. It was a long evening spent on hard pews in a cold church, but well worth the effort.