Prom 69: 11th September 2001 – Percussion old and new

Stephen Whibley
Síppal, Dobbal, Nádihegedüvel
Jan Bradley
African traditional arr. Sugumugu
Welcome to Africa
Message to Shango, the God of War
One Africa

Katalin Károlyi (mezzo-soprano)
4-MALITY [Adrian Spillett, Stephen Whibley, Jan Bradley and Geir Rafnasson – percussion]
Julian Wharburton (percussion solo)
Master Drummers of Africa/Lord Eric Sugumugu

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 11 September, 2001
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

This late-night percussion Prom took on a different complexion in the light of events across the Atlantic, the least of which was the almost 30-minute delay to the starting time.

Essentially in two halves, the variety of music on offer certainly lived-up to its ’Percussion Old & New’ title. The energetic quartet, 4-MALITY, presented pieces by two of its members. Stephen Whibley’s Monsoon draws on aspects of African and Asiatic drumming in a vibrant extended workout, though the opening section on marimbas proved less scintillating when transferred to drums as a direct rhythmic palimpsest. Jan Bradley’s shorter and more sustained In-Line fuses line and accompaniment in an exhilarating toccata-like motion with subliminal elements of change-ringing.

Between these items, Síppal, Dobbal, Nádihegedüvel proved as memorable an experience as at its UK premiere last February. 4-MALITY’s tight but ’informal’ manner really brought out the biting humour of Ligeti’s vivid settings of all-too-idiomatic texts by Sándor Weöres, and Katalin Károlyi’s almost acted rendition of them. A further tribute to Xenakis rounded off the first half, Julian Wharburton tackling the virtuosic abstraction of Rebonds with cool determination and, towards the close, enough fallibility to reinforce the human focus of the musical conception (and could that possibly be ’The Girl with the Flaxen Hair’ that emerges out of the intricate rhythmic counterpoint?).

After a platform rearrangement, Lord Eric Sugumugu led out his Master Drummers of Africa – surely the ultimate synthesis of drumming idioms – for a charismatic Proms debut. Having acknowledged the day’s atrocities in his opening ’blessing’, Sugumugu directed proceedings with the ancient authority of one who is part-seer, part-master-of-ceremonies. The range and type of percussion instruments employed was a treat for the eye as well as the ear, with (unnecessary?) amplification and lighting adding to the mood of celebratory ritual. After the ceremonial Welcome to Africa, the ’orchestra’ continued with the visceral Message to Shango, the God of War, which took on ominous and even angry tones in the wider context.

The set culminated with One Africa, an appeal for unity across the continent, which drew the diminishing but still determined audience into palpable accord. Whatever the individual cultural background, here was one anthem to peace in which everyone could share.

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