Red Over Black

Kurtág
Hommage à R. Sch.
Schumann
Arabeske, Op.18
Ian Wilson
red over black [BBC co-commission with the Royal Philharmonic Society: World premiere]
Mozart
Trio in E flat, K498 (Kegelstatt)

Martin Fröst (clarinet), Pierre Lénert (viola) & Cédric Tiberghien (piano)


Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 14 August, 2006
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

With red over black (inspired by a Mark Rothko painting) a touch over the advertised 13 minutes, it was not surprising that this well-filled lunchtime concert overran. So when the trio of players continued after Mozart’s ‘Kegelstatt’ confection with the third of Schumann’s Märchenersählungen Stephanie Hughes had to return to Broadcasting House nearly ten minutes late, as BBC Radio 3 listeners also got the encore.

While the three players didn’t look particularly at ease together, their separate instrumental talents were clearly on show in this inventive programme that started (and, with the encore, ended) with a nod to the 150th-anniversary of Robert Schumann’s death, let alone a nod to the 80th-birthday of György Kurtág. The latter’s Hommage à R. Sch. – written for the same distinctive combination of instruments as Schumann’s ‘Fairy Tales’ – is a six-movement suite, which made me think of a musical biography of the troubled composer, ending with Martin Fröst swapping clarinet for bass drum for a single strike which, as Stephanie Hughes suggested, was like his final heart-beat.

Out of the silence – like the raising of Schumann’s musical soul – came Cédric Tiberghien’s distinguished performance of Arabeske, save for an extraordinarily unwarranted scrape of Velcro being ripped open in the opening bars.

Ian Wilson’s co-commissioned work followed, three times groping ever-higher out of the darkness of the piano’s bottom register. Usually accompanied by an increase in speed, these three low-to-high trajectories inhabit different moods and their soundworld is not difficult to grasp. It certainly pays listening to again (as I have done on the Radio 3 internet service), with the work expressing more cohesiveness than I gave it credit for on first hearing. There are some poignant – even Messiaen-like – moments towards the end of a flowing slow section, leading to the final notes, where the viola’s and clarinet’s highest notes are pointed by the piano at both extremes of its register.

After the Wilson, Mozart’s ‘Kegelstatt’ trio was a little po-faced, with little of the rambunctious nature of what you might expect from the skittle alley that, reputedly, was its inspiration. I would have liked a little more abandon, especially as the work had – just over a week earlier – celebrated its 220th-birthday, Mozart having noted its completion as 5 August 1786.

Best of all was the ‘Tempo tranquillo con espressione delicato’ from Schumann’s Märchenersählungen, an encore that was rapt and utterly absorbing, with the audience as quiet as you could possibly hope.

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