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Sarah Leonard – soprano
with Robin Michael – cello

Firsova:  Winter Songs
Pritchard:  Forse mi stai chiamando (London Premiere)
Tavener:  Akhmatova Songs
Berio:  Sequenza XIV; Sequenza III
Birtwistle:  Nine settings of Lorine Niedecker
Cutler:  Blue rider; Four colours grey  (World Premieres)
Gordon:  Three Rabbinical Sayings (London Premiere)
White:  Two useful testimonials re piano pieces by Eric Satie (London Premiere)

The BMIC Cutting Edge
Series at The Warehouse, London SE1 (04 October 2007)

The Cutting Edge proved an apt title for a concert that included the London premieres of three works and the world premiere of another.  

Another feature that made the evening stand out from other London concerts was the rapt attentiveness of the audience; you could have heard the proverbial pin drop as ears were concentrated on the performers and the very effective combination of cello and voice in what proved to be a very varied programme. 

The opening item was Elena Firsova’s Winter Songs, conjuring up visions of a frozen landscape.  At first the cello seemedto  imitate the wind whistling around, but gradually settled into a more clearly defined melodic pattern as the songs progressed.  Sarah Leonard refined her voiced to the purest of white tones, redolent of extreme cold.

The two Berio pieces were at the heart of the concert. In Sequenza XIV  the solo cello imitates a Sri Lankan drum in a mixture of pitched, un-pitched and pizzicato effects.  The piece pushes both instrument and musician to the limit in terms of the sound that the cello can produce and what the instrumentalist physically can play.  In a real show of dexterity, and with obvious enjoyment Robin Michael produced a quite breathtaking performance.      

After the interval Sequentia III , always aassociated with Cathy Berbarian,, set an equal test of agility for the singer, in negotiating a series of spellbinding vocal contortions resulting in some quite extraordinary sounds.  Sarah Leonard was more than a match for the challenge, responding with complete mastery. 

The evening’s World Premiere consisted of two short songs composed by Joe Cutler to poems written by his father.  Both were chromatically more thickly stranded than the works earlier in the recital, and provided an interesting contrast.

My personal favourite piece was Michael Zev Gordon’s Three Rabbinical Sayings.  These start as a warm, melodic vocalise and develops with the voice becoming ever more insistent, building to an almost strident finale.

The evening ended in lighter mood with John White’s settings of Satie’s “anonymous” testimonials in praise of his own works, rounding off a concert of concentrated excellence.

Serena Fenwick