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Artur Pizarro piano
St Olave, Hart Street - 28 June


Honegger Prelude - Arioso - Fughetta sur le Nom de Bach
Milhaud Sonata No 1 for Piano
Satie Croquis et Agaceries d'un Gros
Auric Trois morceaux pour 'Lac aux Dames'
Tailleferre Deux Pièces pour Piano
Durey Romance sans Paroles
Poulenc Trois Pièces pour Piano

The City of London Festival is under full swing again; a musical and architectural feast. The City is continually being torn down and rebuilt all around you, dazzling new skyscrapers jostling with ancient listed buildings, retained and lovingly restored as necessary. Surely there is no city in the world so invigorating to walk around on a fine summer evening?

War-damaged St Olave's (Pepys's church) is a splendid place to listen to music, with a lively lunchtime recital series.

Artur Pizarro's delectable hors d'eouvre was mainly of , salon pieces unlikely to have been known to the audience, some of whom walked briskly round to the Merchant Taylors' Hall for the Tokyo Quartet's recital a quarter-hour afterwards...

Samples from each of the 'Les Six' composers (early 20 C, undated in the programme book) demonstrated their differences, with Honegger the odd one out, his music serious and, here, relating closely to Bach's. Milhaud's early sonata is characteristic with his piquant bimodal harmonies, runbustious passages (a little over-pedalled?) interposed with tenderness. Poulenc's pieces showed why he has survived as the most durable of the group, his complex musical personality juxtaposing religiosity with vivacious clowning.

No canonic master works; but a good programme for connoisseurs and "collectors" of unusual repertoire; just what festivals should do. Recorded for BBCR3 transmission next month.

Tokyo String Quartet

Merchant Taylors' Hall - 28 June

Mozart in D, K 575

Hayashi Lament
Brahms Op 51/2 in A minor


Stationers' Hall - 3 July
Mozart in F, K 590
Mamiya Quartet No 3
Brahms Op 67 in Bb

Violist Kazuhide Isomura is the sole surviving founder member from 30 years ago of the now very international Tokyo String Quartet; the new leader is Canadian and Clive Greensmith used to lead the RPO cellists. They have melded well and gave one of the most heart-warming accounts I've heard in years of the most endearing of Brahms quartets (Op 51/2). But Hikaru Hayashi (b.1931) deluded himself that composing a chaconne in 2000 would 'discover some new sources of interest in the older form'. All newer developments in string quartet writing seem to have passed him by, and he'd have done better to listen to Britten's 2nd Quartet (1945) before agreeing to have his Lament showcased in London!

The City's guild halls are revelatory; Merchant Taylors' is sumptuous inside, a huge high, panelled hall with excellent acoustics. For the interval, we took our glasses of wine outdoors to watch a delicious display of contemporary Japanese fashion around the pond in the central courtyard, modelled by students of the Bunka School and the London College of Fashion, accompanied by Taiko drummers! This tasteful and innovative show contributed to the Festival's Anglo/Japanese Trade theme this yea. A unique and unforgettable evening.

Tokyo String Quartet's equally satisfying concert at Stationers' Hall gave opportunities to showcase two of the players, Clive Greensmith in Mozart's last "cello" quartet, and the reticent-sounding Kazuhide Isomura (seated so that his sound goes backwards) in the last of Brahms' three, which features the viola. Another fine guild hall, in which the quartet sounded even better, though the cello and viola might well consider changing places? Mamiya's quartet displayed familiarity with Bartok and early Webern, and was worth hearing, but it did not leave so strong an impression as to encourage exploring this composer further.

Repertoire and the Japanese Connection

Repertoire selection and choice is, from our point of view, something of a problem at this festival. The Japanese quartets were safe choices to offend no-one. And Japan was ill-served by Joji Hirota's association with (six members of) Britten Sinfonia at the even more gorgeous Ironmongers' Hall nestling almost invisibly beside the Museum of London.

Successful though he be on the "world music scene", I was unable to enjoy the "eclectic mix of emotional vocals interwoven with taiko drumming, shakuhachi and string quintet" also to be heard on one of Hirota's CDs.

Concerts in Churches and their presentation for broadcasting

The City churches, in which the early evening (possibly over-priced ?) recitals are held, pose other problems. Some of their high barrel-vaulted naves have acoustics which are lethal for the piano.


Stephan Loges' selection of Viennese lieder from Schubert to (safe) early Schoenberg at St Andrew by the Wardrobe suffered from Eugene Asti's dedication to the sustaining pedal, which made a mish-mash of the sound reaching us - only clarified by resorting to the gallery which, unexpectedly, had no seating but - instead - was devoted to an important ecclesiastical and architectural library, many of its shelves filled by courtesy of the Friends of Friendless Churches, of which St Andrew is surely not one!

In St Andrew Holborn (Wren's largest City Church) Ernst Kovacic's violin sounded splendid, especially in a Kreisler selection, but there was a similar problem with David Ownen Norris's piano playing when the music was dense, as in the Brahms C minor scherzo. Here things were improved by resorting to a trick learnt at St Giles Cripplegate and St James's Piccadilly, in both of which many concerts are given. St James is a graveyard for aspiring pianists!

The secret is to avoid sitting in the nave, especially those with high barrel vaults; things were better in the side aisles at St Andrew Holborn, but still far from ideal.

Presentation of 'live' broadcasts

Another theme worth broaching for readers' reactions is the BBC's presentation, which reached the ridiculous on this occasion. [The Postcards series is to be broadcast on Radio 3 in late July.]

The Radio 3 presenter apologised that Kovacic's recital had to be delayed until some drilling in a hole in the road outside could hopefully be stopped. Meanwhile the small audience of seemingly seasoned concertgoers was instructed to practise chattering - "louder please" - to prepare creating an illusion for the broadcast of what was to be put out as a lunchtime recital (lunchtime recitals in the City are normally free!) and to be sure that there would be no untoward interferences since there would be no 'patching' session afterwards.

The sound of the drilling was scarcely disturbing - I hadn't noticed it before she drew our attention to it; certainly less so than the traffic outside in the busy Holborn Viaduct junction! One gets used to filtering those ambient sounds out, and surely it may be better for listeners at home to feel that they are hearing a real performance in a real venue rather than a clinically up cleaned version with microphones so close as to practically eliminate all sounds of actual life?

Once the recital was underway, we were treated like a TV pop-show audience, told how beautiful the next music would be, getting Kovacic to help us not be afraid of Webern's brief pieces, then - I speak truly - she raised both arms up high to encourage us when and how to clap!! This is not a dignified way to treat a paying audience. PGW

Postcard from St Petersburg – Pushkin Songs

St Giles Cripplegate, 13 July 2006


Joan Rodgers - soprano / Christopher Glynn – piano

Glinka:- Do not Sing me the Songs of Georgia ; I remember that Wonderful Moment; Confession; Adele; I am here, Inez

Rimsky-Korsakov: - On the Hills of Georgia ; Do not Sing me the Songs of Georgia ; What Comfort for You in my Name? Night; You and Thou

Medtner: – The Waltz; The Rose; When Roses Fade; The Muse

Rubinstein:- The Singer; Night

Tchaikovsky: – The Nightingale; Zemfira's Song (Speaker - Sergey Rybin)

Mussorgsky:- Night; The Magpie


What more appropriate souvenir of St Petersburg could there be than these glimpses of Russian life described in the words of its most beloved poet, Pushkin? There are more than 800 of his poems to choose from, and this carefully compiled selection also served to illustrate of the development of Russian song writing.


The performances throughout the evening were of the highest quality, Joan Rodgers has the clarity of tone and a directness of communication which is ideal for the concert platform. Christopher Glynn, called in at short notice to replace the indisposed Malcolm Martineau, clearly relished the challenge and is a pianist to look out for. [The sound was excellent from a side aisle near the front; it can get very muddly - especially the piano - from the centre nave seats where everyone congregated. PGW]


They began with the traditionalists: Glinka, characterised by simple melodies harking back to the heroic style and in one song, a reference to the opening choruses of his opera Ruslan and Lyudmila ; Rimsky-Korsakov, shorn of his usual rich orchestration, presenting melodies with direct appeal.


Next two composers whose works seldom get an airing, unjustly, on the basis of what was heard hear. I particularly enjoyed the four songs by Medtner, masterpieces on a miniature scale.* The piano was his instrument, and he writes for that instrument with dedication, producing piano music of great complexity and originality, perfectly complementing the vocal line. Rubinstein's opera The Demon has always been a favourite of mine, and he is equally adept with song. His setting of The Night has exquisite soaring lines and was the most beautiful of the four versions of this poem included in the concert.


Finally we came to the romantics, Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky, whose big tunes have made them familiar to all – but here we were given a sprinkling of humour – Zemfira's Song where the singer answers back to a male speaker, and The Magpie which Mussorgsky subtitled a musical joke. Sadly the audience never got to learn just what the joke was – we all recognised the bird strutting and chattering – but to what end?


The lavishly illustrated free programme covered the whole festival, but devoted just a couple of paragraphs to this concert (we had a few introductory remarks from Radio 3 presenter Petroc Trelawny). Joan Rodgers is a distinguished Russian scholar, her diction is exemplary and she put considerable effort into characterisation, but a largely English speaking audience needed to read the words – having them available would have been standard practice at any London concert hall, and essential for appreciating comparisons between different settings of the same words . An insert page on the night is the least to expect. The ship had been spoilt for “a ha'p'orth of tar”.


This recommendable recital is scheduled for broadcast on 4 August, and will also be available online via the Radio 3 website.

Serena Fenwick

* Christopher Glynn, who had only 12 hours notice to stand in for Malcolm Martineau, confirmed that the Medtner songs were the most complex and interesting from his point of view; there is a possibility of a recording.

An even fuller selection of Russian Song, with the benefit of full texts and translations, can be found on Vassily Savenko's recordings [Hyperion CDA 67105 & 67205] which include five of Medtner's elusive songs. [PGW]


OKEANOS St Lawrence Jewry Friday 7 July; 18:00
Dai Fujikura Touch of Breeze, Cutting Sky (world première) & Okeanos Breeze
Judith Bingham The Cruelty of The Gods (world première);
Toshi Ichiyanagi Hoshi No Wa (Galaxy); Transfiguration of Flowers 2 (UK première)
Mai Fukasawa Forgotten Psalm, with readings from the Tanabata.

This early evening concert of unknown music was a high point of the City of London Festival. It was superbly conceived to display the Japanese instruments in the ideal setting of St Lawrence - not barrel vaulted, fine acoustics. It proved to be a full length programme played (unwisely, I think) without a break.

Clive Bell's shakuhachi was particularly evocative, on stage and from the back of the church. It was not always easy to know where you were in the Souvenir Programme, as the notes were less than adequate and there was no addtional insert sheet on the day.

Nothing could be found about Toshi Ichiyanagi (pictured), who turns out to be a senior figure in Japan, Artistic Director of the Tokyo International Music Ensemble, known for his compositions using Japanese traditional instruments. His Galaxy for sho made a powerful effect played by Robin Thompson up in the organ loft. The concert finished with the UK premiere of his work for a trio of Japanese instruments, played to superb effect by three British players, Bell and Thompson with Melissa Holding, koto virtuoso.

They had earlier been combined variously with oboe (Jinny Shaw), clarinet (Kate Romano) and viola (Bridget Carey) with complete success. Brought up in UK, Dai Fujikura only came to the traditional instruments late in his flourishing compositional career. His Breeze Trilogy, which had been heard in part in the Spitalfield Festival's memorable Okeanos Plus concert, has grown into a viable tri-partite work with movements for plucked viola and koto and a third for sho, clarinet and viola, delectable combinations.

Judith Bingham's new The Cruelty of the Gods effectively featured koto with oboe, and her GSMD pupil Mai Fukasawa provided an ambitious celebration of the Tanabata (Star Festival) about the annual reunion across the Milky Way of legendary lovers each July 7th; auspicious for London's anniversary of its 7/7 tragedy marked by a nation-wide two minutes silence that morning. Forgotten Psalm's magical ending for narrators and instrumentalists was heightened by the switching off (by timer presumably) the equipment which had rumbled in the background through most of the concert.

This important concert to foster international understanding in difficult times was recorded by BBC R3 for "future broadcasting". It ought to be put out at peak listening time but is, I fear, more likely to find itself relegated to the late night contemporary music ghetto Hear & Now. Definitely worth watching out for, and deserving a longer life on CD (likewise the Okeanus Plus concert); Metier please consider? PGW

© Peter Grahame Woolf