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Spitalfields Festival 2010

JS Bach Cello Suite No.3 in C Major, BWV 1009
Kodály Duo for violin and cello
Bach/Sivovetsky Goldberg Variations

Thomas Gould violin
Philip Higham cello
Gary Pomeroy viola

Shoreditch Church, 14 June 2010

An outstanding event at the Palladian style Shoreditch Church, set up as an attractive concert hall with the platform under the organ, opened the first complete week of this year's Spitalfields Festival.

Philip Higham, a young cellist new to me (more active in the Manchester area and on the international competition circuit) riveted my attention throughout the whole evening.

He is musician first, consummate instrumentallist second. I didn't look forward to yet another Bach cello suite performance, having heard so many in so many years, but Philip's account of No 3 was totally persuasive, pulse and flow deeply satisfying, virtuosity subsumed in an inward communion with the music, with no flashy point scoring drawing attention to himself. Hear him play the sarabande from No 4.

Nonetheless I hope that Higham won't feel bound to make his own recording of the six (on Amazon there are hundreds competing !); better keep to mixed repertoires, and maybe with his companions tonight?

Bach was followed by the Kodaly Duo in fine partnership with Thomas Gould, who is well established as a versatile free-lancer. Kodaly's is surely the greatest violin/cello duo of them all, with a passion in the writing, and in tonight's account, which was both exhilarating and emotionally draining.

After the supper interval (nice snacks on sale outside, in the well stocked garden) the two returned to the platform joined by Gary Pomeroy, violist of the Heath Quartet, who seemed to be another fine player, but hard to evaluate in what turned out to be the evening's big mistake.

They gave us Bach's Goldberg Variations in a controversial arrangement for string trio by Dmitry Sitkovetsky. For a positive appreciation of it see a CD review on Audiophile Audition; for another, which accords with my own response, see Andrew Clements's one star dismissal in the Guardian of the same disc - as recorded by top famous players.

I found Sitkovetsky's version pleasant enough for five or ten minutes, un-Bach-like though it sounded, but increasingly tedious and eventually repugnant as it grew into perhaps the lengthiest string trio I'd ever encountered. Well before the end I was longing for it to finish, never the case before with the Goldbergs, one of my favourite keyboard works - to get through my ennui I found myself identifying with the cellist, whose bass line never became perfunctory.

If you must have a Goldbergs transcription, sample Uri Caine's, which also treats non-Goldberg Bach sources, tantalisingly recognisable, but hard to pin down out of their usual context . That disc will certainly entertain and give you food for thought: - - Uri Caine has kindly written to me personally and explained that "the Variations that are based on other works by Bach include his first cello suite, his cantatas, his organ preludes - those Variations are meant to recall in a general way other music by Bach, but not necessarily to specific pieces! Other Baroque composers that Bach studied are also referred to and I tried to write pieces in their general style, but was not referring to specific pieces of theirs - the kaleidoscopic nature of theme and variations allows for many different styles in one piece."

Peter Grahame Woolf

Xenakis Pléïades
Claviers, Peaux, Métaux, Mélanges

Old Spitalfields Market 5.30pm: Free, no booking required

Royal Academy of Music Percussion ensemble with Aidy Spillet & Owen Gunnell
Julian Warburton/director

This fully notated work for six percussionists was reckoned to be of a complexity all but impossible before James Woods brought it to London's Almeida Theatre for his groundbreaking Percussion Festival 1988.

Now, the standard of percussion playing has improved exponentially and this great work has become a repertoire piece. Well attended, by casual visitors to the market as well as people who knew what to expect, it was an exhilarating and memorable three-quarters of an hour before the evening's main concert, with just enough time between events to sample the exotic Bangladeshi atmosphere in Brick Lane behind Christ Church.

There are several recordings and videos to be seen on YouTube. See an earlier RAM group in Stockholm on YouTube, or a better filmed version from Switzerland, but there's nothing like the visceral experience of being close to a live performance, and the Market proved ideal acoustically. Possibly Pléïades may prove to be one of the most enduring of Xenakis' works.

Farewell Tunes

Finger Suite in G minor 'Farewell' (on the death of Henry Purcell)
Desprez La Déploration de la mort de Johannes Ockeghem
Weelkes Death hath deprives me: a remembrance of my friend Thomas Morley
Lobo versa est in luctum (on the death of Philip II of Spain)
Dowland Come heavy sleep, the image of true death
Humfrey A Hymne to God the Father
Herbert Howells Take him, earth, for cherishing (motet on the death of President Kennedy)
Walton Where does the uttered music go (in memoriam Sir Henry Wood)
Morgan Mr Henry Purcell's Farewell Tune
Purcell Lament & Final Chorus from Dido & Aeneas
Clarke Come, come along for a song and a dance (ode on the death of Henry Purcell)

Elin Manahan Thomas soprano
Nicholas Mulroy tenor
Stephen Varcoe baritone

Clare College Choir & Academy of Ancient Music/ Timothy Brown

Christ Church Spitalfields, 19 June 2010

This was rather a sombre event (relieved however by the bright interior of the restored Christ Church - shown in "fish-eye" photo) but rewarding for the inclusion of several rarities and a substantial novelty, a rediscovered Ode by Jeremiah Clarke (c. 1674 – 1707), whose famous "trumpet vountary" used to be attributed to Purcell.

Clarke's Ode on Purcell's death starts with peasant merrymaking (as does Monteverdi's Orfeo) and the soprano 'messenger' takes an unconscionable time to reveal her bad news, with the name 'Strephon" replacing Purcell's. Edited recently by Robert King this merited a performance, though it did not quite come across as a neglected masterwork. It was dominated by natural trumpet, and we felt sorry for a violinist close in front of him!

The three solo singers all acquitted themselves well and Academy of Ancient Music supplied stirling support. Clare Choir was outstandingly expressive in major unaccompanied works by Walton and Howells. Organisation was found a little wanting, the (seemingly inevitable) programme order changes compounded by peculiar printing of the words, and there were too long gaps getting people on and off the cramped stage area. Some of us there would have preferred a less gloomy second half to a concert which, all in all, must be rated a success.