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IAN PACE - piano
The Warehouse, London, 10th February 2005

JAMES CLARKE - Landschaft mit Glockenturm I [London premiere]
RICHARD BARRETT - lost [UK premiere]
WIELAND HOBAN - when the panting starts [UK premiere]

GILBERT AMY - Sonate pour piano
PASCAL DUSAPIN - Etudes for piano Nos. 3 & 4
SALVATORE SCIARRINO - Sonata No. 3 for piano
GERSHWIN/FINNISSY - Embraceable you

A remarkable recital, not to be missed on Radio 3 (check future broadcast date).

Ian Pace at 37 is at his peak, displaying remarkable pianistic authority and in his repertoire shows an omnivorous appetite for the extremes of unfashionable modernism. There was a reasonable audience of some 50 afficionados whom I take to be knowledgeable and able to 'understand' music of so great complexity, and this programme also had some welcome variety.

The programme notes (most of them copyrighted !) were little help to non-experts; perhaps better elucidation will be forthcoming on the Hear and Now programme? A specialist pianist, the recital needs a specialist reviewer to do it justice; could one of those cognoscenti present be persuaded to supplement this inadequate notice with a 'meatier' review for Musical Pointers?

Pace's stamina is as amazing as his reading skill; this was a full length recital of music any page of which might daunt regular recital pianists on the concert circuit. And a word for the often under-rated turner-over, who during the Hoban piece had to manipulate dozens of large sheets of music with mind boggling rapidity, often but a few seconds before the next one.

More often in London Ian Pace has to contend with unsatisfactory venues. Sharp attack contrasted with alluring bell-changing effects using all 12 notes in James Clarke's 'oblique homage to Schönberg'. The acoustics of The Warehouse were ideal for this music; crisp and clear, and allowing full relish of the resonances within the excellent Steinway, especially evident in Clarke's new piece and Dusapin's Études.

Richard Barrett
's lost was texturally translucent, deceptively so because its structure was designedly impenetrable*. John Warnaby is quoted by Barrett's publisher as telling his younger British colleagues that they have a lot to learn from him; but what, we were not vouchsafed.

For Wieland Hoban's piece for Pace's 'ten fingers rather than two hands' (its title alluding to Samuel Beckett) the piano was turned around so that we could all watch Ian Pace's antics at the keyboard, with the composer's 'bizarre restrictions and inaccessible possibilities'. Its texture was predominantly dense, a contrast after Barrett's, and extraordinary contortions of the player's hands and elbows are required. It was an exilharating and exhausting experience for us all, received with a deserved ovation before the much-needed interval.

Amy's 1960 sonata was related to the young composer's influence from Boulez; dry and too long for me - I could make nothing of its 'fluctuating pitch material' and did not appreciate its alleged 'vivid colouration'; disappointing after a very positive response to Amy's writing for organ heard last week in a Paris festival. Dusapin's two Études were the emotional heart of the recital for me, and Pace looked and sounded a different pianist. No 3 has a 'keening melodic line' of 'fraught lyricism' with elaborate grace notes, finally 'seemingly hopeless'.No 4, 'furious and almost toccata-like' is a tour de force, with some similarities to Ligeti's ways. On the way, Pace gave us infinite subtleties of articulation and dynamics ranging between the brutal to utmost delicacy, again exploiting the resonance of the piano.

To finish, the most spectacular item - Sciarrino's extravagant Sonata No. 3, sounding like Xenakis at his most extreme; only the player will know what proportion of notes were the right ones, and whether it matters? To bring us down to earth, a Gershwin transcription was just right!

Ian Pace's CD/DVD of all the Dusapin Études, and the concerto À Quia derived from them, should be high on explorer-collectors' lists. Tonight's programme has the makings of another spectacular CD to follow the impressive and enjoyable Tracts, its title derived from Richard Barrett's featured piece Tract [NMC D066].

*The Times, reviewing Barrett's new orchestral piece "No" at The Barbican the following night, epitomised the difficulties for ordinary listeners: " - - No, the problem was that I couldn't see any connection whatsoever between the radical political and social agenda that Barrett postulates for his music, and the music itself - - just another noisy, hyper-complex avant-garde score that will be heard by a tiny minority of a tiny minority. The rest is delusion and hype - - "



© Peter Grahame Woolf