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Matthew Barley & Stephen de Pledge
Wigmore Hall Recital & CDs

A magnificent, innovative cellist with a well attuned partner made this carefully structured Wigmore Hall programme (27 September 2005) one which kept its audience listening intently to rarities. Barley has a big tone and de Pledge, with his Steinway lid wide open, had no balance problems to remind us of Gerald Moore's Am I too loud?

The version heard of the ubiquitous Fratres, transcribed from one made for Gidon Kremer, was far livelier than usual (I generally try to avoid it!). It made a good opener before the substantial Mansurian sonata, which alternates 'episodes of inner concentration' with dramatic outbursts. This confirmed the positive impression of his being a true original formed from hearing his string quartets.

Next, two light encore pieces, perfectly placed before Ali-Zadeh's exotic (perhaps a little too lengthy) exploration of Azeri kemancheh music played on the cello to accompaniment by a Cageian-prepared piano.

After a well earned interval, a powerful account of Schnittke's first sonata. Then Barley and de Pledge brought the temperature down with humorous music Matthew had transcribed from a Shostakovich operetta.

An important contribution to the success of this recital was the easy conversational way in which Matthew Barley introduced the items, without ever patronising us or going on too long; a natural presenter for BBC R3 or TV.

Matthew Barley CDs

Two CDs that for their uniqueness justify my consideration and yours.

Reminding (quartz QTZ 2032) has essentially the same programme as the recital, differently ordered and minus the Mansurian. An impressive visiting card, reflecting Barley's two years in Soviet Russia, which changed his playing "firmly rooted in the Russian tradition" and developed his "enduring love of music from the whole of the Soviet empire in all its eclectic glory".

Ali-Zadeh's exotic Gabil-Sajahy sounded better at home without the distraction of seeing what was being done with the piano, and no longer felt too long. The Shostakovich was better as a finisher than a starter - but with the CD the choice is yours.

The Silver Swan (black box BBM1068) interested me enormously for its technical innovation - one to nine cellos multi-tracked by Barley himself from live takes, achieving a gorgeous range of timbres and registers, with matched articulation, vibrato, sound colour and textures. The secret is a "voice count" technique which allows for identity of ritardandi, accelerandi and all marks of expression.

The only reservation is the almost entirely slow and meditative repertoire, soothing easy listening music, short classic favourites and newer Britten, Stravinsky etc punctuated by half a dozen Bach chorales. The longest are the least successful. Allegri's Miserere doesn't banish memories of the exquisite soaring of the boy treble in the familiar original version, and the inescapable Fratres is far more palatable in the version for Kremer included in the recital and Barley's Reminding CD.

BMIC Cutting Edge 2005:
Fidelio Trio
at The Warehouse, London 29 September

Salvatore Sciarrino - Piano Trio No 1 (UKP)
Laurence Crane - For Ros & Peter
Jonathan Powell - Vainglory (WP)
Joe Cutler - Archie (LP)
Michael Nyman - The Photography of Chance (EP)
Jonathan Harvey - Piano Trio
Beat Furrer - Retour an Dich (UKP)
Bill Campbell - Kashmir (Led Zeppelin) (WP)
Rowland Sutherland - One for Hermeto (WP)
Andrew Poppy - Revolution (Lennon/McCartney) (WP)
John B Hedges - I Am the Walrus (Lennon/McCartney) (WP)

Something akin to Matthew Barley's presentation flair would have lightened the atmosphere at The Warehouse. The composers featured (several of them present) may be inarticulate orally, but members of the trio aren't (c.f. their series at Wilton's Music Hall) and it would have been good to have something from them, some clues about how we might approach the very different pieces they coped with so easily.  

The composers' notes were mostly unhelpful for 'ordinary listeners' or else flippanjt - "I think I wrote it in 1996, but I'm not sure" & "I think it needs personality, so I called it Archie ". There were 11 items, so various in idiom and aesthetic that it is inconceivable that many in the packed, knowing audience enjoyed them all, but they were applauded politely and fairly equally. Occasional old fashioned 'new music booing' countered bystanding ovations would liven the scene?

I liked best Sciarrino's Piano Trio - high energy with coruscating piano textures sometimes embracing harp-like flourishes against more austere strings mostly offering harmonics, and Furrer's trio which brought to mind Webern and Lachenmann, riveting audience attention. Harvey's early (1971) trio was impressive, although less ingratiating than his later music. I departed before the items sourced from Led Zeppelin and the Beatles, which will have brightened the atmosphere, no doubt.

© Peter Grahame Woolf