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City of London Festival June/July 2004

Borodin Quartet (Beethoven Op 18/4, 95 & 131 Stationers' Hall; Op 18/6, 135 & 133 Fishmongers' Hall)
Pascal Rogé (Fauré, Satie, Debussy, Poulenc St Giles Cripplegate)
Kenneth Leighton Tribute (St Lawrence's Jewry)

It was possible only to sample a fraction of this year's offerings in this major festival's ambitious programme, which reached us very late. The glory of the festival is the opportunity to visit famous buildings not normally open to the public, many of them boasting superb architecture and fine acoustics.

The Borodin Quartet's cycle took them to some of the City's Guild Halls, their recital at Stationers' Hall especially memorable for perfectly rehearsed and accurate aural recreation of the scores, if without any visible or audible tension between the well drilled musicians.

Unsmiling and undemonstrative in their playing, the present line-up has three generations, the cellist a founder-member of the famous original Borodin Quartet (1945) whose recordings of Shostakovich's quartets are set apart by "their uncanny attention to detail, their ability to impart breathing room and nuance to almost every phrase of the music without losing its essential spontaneity, inner tension or architectural solidity". The programme at Fishmongers' Hall (which has no double-glazing to London Bridge, but enjoys a long river frontage in the reception rooms) was less satisfactory and the musicians sounded disconcertingly less involved.- the Grosse Fuge is a strenuous way to end a concert, for players and listeners alike. These large halls were sold out to loyal festival-goers, who relish the venues equally with the music.

For Pascal Rogé's recital I made the mistake of sitting in the near-front at the centre, under the tall nave. Here the sound of a piano becomes muddled and confused, but it was impossible to move after realising this because, having told us how important we the audience were, the announcer went on to tell us that the pianist would play the whole programme straight through without pause or applause, making it impossible to move. Only for a small encore was I able to remind myself that in the side transepts, with a lower ceiling, the sound of the piano was perfect! The recital was recorded for broadcast on R3 and judgment must await that opportunity!

The tribute programme to Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988) was introduced knowledgeably and sympathetically by Nigel Osborne, Leighton's successor as professor in Edinburgh. John Kitchen, at the new Klais organ, greatly impressed in Bach and Messiaen, and Floreat Sonus demonstrated that it is in the first rank of professional choral ensembles.

They sounded magnificent in Wren's St Lawrence Jewry, the official Church of the Corporation of London, next to the Guildhall. The powerful Mass Op. 44 (1964) for double choir a cappella has an effective organ accompaniment for the Credo alone, a curiosity which disturbed me; I was pleased that the Sanctus reverted to unaccompanied singing, but had hoped the organ might return for the Hosanna and Dona Nobis Pacem, perhaps, to create a symmetry. The half-hour work is harmonically strong, and it rivets the attention.