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Adès, Carter, Copland and Ligeti
Park Lane Group Young Artists 2007
Purcell Room SBC, 7 January 2007

The annual club for young musicians eager to display their prowess in contemporary music to a specialised audience of enthusiasts opened its doors on Sunday for a week. It always has a special atmosphere, with many professionals, including British composers represented in the programmes, representatives of the music business, and student supporters of the performers. The critical fraternity was present in force.

If this 3½ hours triple-decker is a portent, 2007 may be a vintage year for PLG, which was founded across the road from Hyde Park in 1956, at 45 Park Lane, and has served highly talented young artists (many of them having become internationally famous) for 50 seasons.

The heart of the evening was the centre panel, with a deliciously refined account of Thomas Adès' Arcadiana (seven pieces for string quartet, 1994) and Aaron Copland's major song cycle. The Heath Quartet were strong advocates for the Adès, and afterwards impressive in the more daunting asperities of Ligeti's 2nd quartet, though that would better have been placed straight after the interval, before the audience began to tire.

Karina Lucas' name is one to remember. She entranced us with a great performance of Copland's Emily Dickinson cycle, rarely given in its entirety, persuading some of us hard-boiled critics that it is fully the equal of some canonic masterpieces by composers whose names begin with Schu...

She has everything, a lovely mezzo voice in perfect control through all registers, poised platform manner with sparing use of gesture at just the right moments, immaculate articulation of the delightful poems in their moods of rapture and gentle humour. No, she did not "sing too loud" so as to be "shut out of Heaven"!

Karina's lighter songs, by another Dickinson and Anthony Payne, made a nice group, which should have been placed at the end to send us home happy. I eagerly await hearing her in a full length recital.

Karina Lucas was partnered by Simon Lane in perfect style, and with sensitivity to the difficult acoustic of the Purcell Room. Alasdair Beatson, with John Myerscough (cellist of the Doric String Quartet) confirmed memories of his masterly Dutilleux piano sonata last year with clarity of articulation and judicious pedalling, but was inclined to brutal ffs in the Carter cello sonata. Nor was the Purcell Room helpful to Myerscough in creating the "hypnotic and other worldly atmosphere" of Sciarrino's Ai limiti della notte, though his control of the tremolo artificial harmonics, amongst the extended techniques deployed throughout, was impressive.

Recommended recordings:
Adès: Arcadiana EMI Classics 7243 5 72271 2 4
Copland: see Twelve poems of Emily Dickinson Roberta Alexander with Roger Vignoles ETCETERA KTC 1100

More PLG Young Artists

Of several other individuals and groups heard during the week, the Aquilon Trio was outstanding and presented an integrated programme which held the attention throughout.

Great pains were taken to stage Musgrave's Pierrot, with masks from Venice for the trios's characterisation as Pierrot, Columbine and Harlequin, with movements around the platform for the various sections. However, we were not alone in giving up on trying to sort it out from the synopsis of the eight sections played continuously. As in the case of Rorem's After reading Shakespeare suite reviewed earlier this week on CD, the selection of specific events were perhaps more for stimulating Musgrave when composingn the piece than for illumination for listeners?

The ladies quick-changed for the rest of their programme; first the premiere of an "unquiet, flickering" little piece by Salter preceding an earlier "non-virtuoso" commission for flexible instrumentation; both given here on violin, bass clarinet and piano.

They were swiftly eclipsed by a quite exceptional account of Bartok's Contrasts, with Di Trolio, in perfect balance with his companions, standing in for Benny Goodman (from the famous premiere and first recording with Szigeti and the composer). It was one of those performances which serve to make one revalue the importance of a particular work in a composer's oeuvre; if they can recapture the spontaneity and precision of this outing, they should certainly go on to record it. All three pursue separate careers, and I am especially keen to hear again Eulalie Charland in solo recital.

The Bartok (dating from 1938) will also be remembered for supplying the most "modern" sounding of all the music heard during this evening of ostensibly contemporary music, and it was good that the PLG rules allowed for its inclusion as an example of "early 20th century repertoire".

There was nothing so stimulating in what we heard subsequently from guitarist Milos Karadaglic and the violin/piano duo that followed him. Brouwer's bland music was said to have been inaugurating the search for 'new simplicity' shared with many non-European composers; Bingham's early little piece did little to substantiate the writer's claim that 'she can now be considered as a most successful composer...' And Gorb's sonata was decidedly less interesting in the hearing than as presaged by the programme note. These evenings are long, and we did not stay to the end.

The multi-national Lendvai Trio gave us a stimulating and well prepared hour on the last day, encouraging me to explore further the prolific conductor/composer Leif Segerstam, whose 100 chamber works 'constitute the most extensive body of works written by a single composer in the history of Finnish music' - another project perhaps for BIS after they have finished recording 'every note that Sibelius wrote'?

It was more spontaneous sounding and inventive than Penderecki's formulaic and manufactured piece, which we were adjured to accept as one of the most important chamber works of one of the most esteemed composers of our time; I fear his star has faded since that might have once been true. The freshness and individuality of the young, formidably qualified academically, Cheryl Frances-Hoad's trio impressed, once we had realised that she was not responsible for the allegedly elegiac and optimistic simplicity of the slow movement which followed Segerstam's; the order had been changed without insert slip in the programme or announcement from the platform!

The high promise of the first evening was not maintained through the week, according to what I heard myself, and what I gleaned from other reviews and conversations.

PLG needs to address why their venerable and worthy annual series continues to attract such very small paying audiences.

Peter Grahame Woolf

See also Peter Grahame Woolf's more recent annual reports of PLG Young Artists New Year Series
2000; 2001; 2002; 2003; 2004; 2005; 2006.

More about PLGYA 2007 from Mark Dennis:

Katie Stillman & Simon Lane. Violin & Piano 8th January
Paul Whitmarsh-All these confessions….(2006)
Colin Matthews-Chaconne with Chorale and Moto Perpetuo
Toru Takemitsu-From Far Beyond Chrysanthemums and November Fog
Witold Lutoslawski-Subito

The perfect way to start the first full week back at work of the New Year is to leave work early, having allowed the accumulated work that was not done before Christmas in a huge heap, and go to the 6.15 concerts at the Purcell Room, showcasing young artists and new music. This highlight of the musical year always provides an introduction to exciting young players with the additional advantage of the performance of much new or unfamiliar material. This concert fulfilled expectations with fine performances by this accomplished duo. The highlights were Paul Whitmarsh’s All these confessions… inspired by a set of prints by Patrick Caulfield, which evoked a sound world of angularity, of edges, of mystery whilst operating within a range almost simple and drab on the surface. And the final piece, written by Lutoslawski at the end of his life, energetic and virtuosic with a tremendous pulse of energy and love of life and of playfulness. A splendid end to an enjoyable performance.

Bella Tromba & Daniel Browell
Monday 8th January-7.45 pm

The second concert on Monday featured performances by an all female trumpet quartet that originated at the Royal Academy of Music and a young English pianist also with Royal Academy connections. The concert featured some fine playing and a couple of fascinating pieces, notably a fine new piece for the trumpeters from Paul Max Edlin entitled The Four First Trumpets, which explored the sonic and emotional possibilities of four players at the end of time, and a rare performance of the mighty Inventions by Andre Tchaikowsky, one of the first pianists to have played at Queen Elizabeth Hall and known for the macabre tale that he had bequeathed his skull for future performances of Hamlet!

The sheer proliferation of pieces in this programme, with the the overwhelming number of trumpet fanfares and the dislocation brought about by mixing pieces by both forces in each half led to an unsatisfactory recital.

Please in future - one half for each set of distinct pieces when mixing a programme as diverse as this piano/trumpet evening and, please, some discretion in repertoire selection. Bella Tromba would have had a much better showcase with four or five pieces instead of the ten plus performed.


Another overview of 8 of the 10 concerts: