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Park Lane Group Young Musicians
Three out of Five
Purcell Room, London January 7, 9 & 11 2005

Elysian String Quartet
Aurelio Tello Dansaq II
Phillip Neil Martin An Outburst of Time
Dai Fujikura Midnight All Day
Stephen Montague String Quartet No. 1 'In Memorium

Alissa Firsova solo piano
Dmitry Smirnov String of Destiny
Alissa Firsova The Endless Corridor, Op 11
Alfred Schnittke Improvisations and Fugue
Michael Tippett Piano Sonata No.1

Adam Mackenzie bassoon/Lefki Karpodini

John Casken Blue Medusa
Philippe Hersant Niggun
Anthony Payne The Enchantress Plays

Richard Craig (flutes)
Marie McLeod/Martin Sturfält

James Dillon Sgothan for solo flute 1985
Llutoslawski Grave for cello and piano 1981
James MacMillan Cello Sonata No 2 2001
Dai Fujikura Poison Mushroom 2003
Michael Finnissy Ulpirra for bass flute 1982-83
Kaija Saariaho laconisme rie I' Ailp
Donatoni Nidi for piccolo 1979

Kesh Piano Duo ( Heejung Kim & Esther Sofaer, one piano 4 hands)
Edwin Roxburgh Reflets dans la Glace
Dai Fujikura Half-Remembered City
Nicola LeFanu 7 Inventions and a Passacaglia
Graham Fitkin Fract

Ruby Hughes soprano/ Lefki Karpodini piano
Christina Lawrie
solo piano

Thomas Adès Life Story
Michael Tippett Piano Sonata No. 4
Dai Fujikura Sleeping Ashes
Ronald Stevenson Peter Grimes Fantasy
Olivier Messiaen Chants de terre et de ciel

Christina Lawrie
This year we have attended on three of the five PLGYM recital days. As previously, there have been marvellous debutantes but some disappointments; young musicians do not always 'come up to proof' following successful auditions, and the repertoire chosen by negotiation may not always display them at their best. These 3½ hr programmes tend to be dense and demanding for listeners and we did not always remain until the very end of each evening. (Please click onto the blue links for background to the series and some of the participants)

On the first evening, the Elysian String Quartet started well with miniatures discovered whilst they were working in South America. They present themselves very much as a string quartet for the new century, and are always on the look-out for new repertoire, and for venues which attract younger audiences. It has been a pleasure to follow their progress since they were Trinity College students, and they attracted a larger audience of supporters to the Purcell Room than many of the week's musicians. brought to our attention.

Aurelio Tello's l
ittle pieces were fresh and should find a regular spot in standard programmes. They suited this established group's style, which is always musical, never too assertive, with good ensemble. Martin's quartet was more through-organised, finally with 'only some semblance' to sonata form. Fujikara's little piece explored the rasping noise which used to be anathema. Montague's big work for amplified quartet, live electronics and CD overstayed our welcome.

Adam Mackenzie is an accomplished bassoonist. Hersant supplied the nastiest multiphonics you're likely to suffer in his Niggun; best was Anthony Payne's seemingly improvised piece The Enchantress Plays which also gave the best opportunity for Mackenzie's partner Lefki Karpodini to shine.

The evening was dominated by the debut of composer/pianist Alissa Firsova, only 18 and a recitalist of unlimited potential. A pianist of romantic bent, she played a tremendously demanding programme entirely from memory (no others we heard did so) and with captivating platform manner, her movements natural, never exaggerated, always in tune with the music.

Daughter of emigré Russian composer parents, and trained entirely in UK by English teachers, she gave the impression that Chopin and Rachmaninoff would suit her well. Smirnov's sonata was Scriabinesque and her own piece of a similar world, Op 11 no less, with a delight in the sounds to be conjured from within the piano.

In Tippett No 1 she relished all the quirky corners and harmonic changes, in this still original-sounding work by everyone's featured composer this year, so that we shared her sense of fresh discovery in music from 65 years ago. Some found her pedalling excessive with blurring of some passages, but the Purcell Room is not the easiest for piano recitals and I don't need to hear every note as if under a microscope. It is always important to rehearse before an appearance in any unfamiliar hall, with a friendly pair of ears in attendance, so that performances can be recreated on each and every occasion.

Alissa's head, heart and fingers are in complete accord and there was not a trace of nervousness. Maybe an intensive study of pedalling (the three pedals are the soul of the modern concert grand piano) would help her towards a higher peak of achievement in a blossoming career which must owe a great deal to early nurture and training at the excellent Purcell School.

A veil over another pianist's recital; Mei Yi Foo (Alissa's senior by 6 years; a long time in a young musician's life) assaulted the Steinway with unlovely tone, did no justice to her chosen composers and inflicted on us a lengthy jejune composition of her own. The instrument recovered when Martin Sturfält 'accompanied' fine cellist Marie McLeod in Lutoslawski and Macmillan (though his magniloquent, overblown 2nd sonata was not good for a preview the Barbican Macmillan weekend soon upon us).

Another noteworthy debut was solo flutist Richard Craig's. Just a few notes of Dillon's Sgothan, suffused with ground-breaking multiple techniques, instilled confidence that this was a musician who would give an exemplary account of the standard flute repertoire too. I have little doubt that his brilliant programme owed much to advice from his teacher Mario Caroli, whose own career, as a transcendal flutist specialising in cutting edge comtemporary music, I have followed since his debut at the Strasbourg Festival.

Craig played bass flute and piccolo as well as the normal instrument; declaimed French in Saariaho's piece and introduced a theatrical coup in the most arresting of several pieces by featured composer Dai Fujikara, one which, unannounced, incorporated a tape track emerging from unseen loudspeakers (a new sound system in the Purcell Room). Composed for a Hiroshima memorial event at home on Fujikara's laptop, his first essay in electronics was a remarkable achievement, even though you would not have guessed the Hiroshima connection without having read the programme note. Balanced to perfection in rehearsal, with levels notated meticulously, the composer himself did the sound projecting behind stage without being able to hear his soloist!

Craig on this showing is a worthy heir to UK's Nancy Ruffer of the older generation and Mario Caroli of the younger flute virtuosi on the continent. Craig's tone is notably mellow and listener friendly - only the piccolo in the Purcell Room picked up the rather painful difference tones (I should have preferred Craig to have finished with Finnissy's 'mysterious hushed and breathy' bass flute).

(A suggestion; Alissa Firsova to join Richard Craig in a duo recital to include the Prokofiev flute sonata?)

The last evening brought an opportunity to hear again the Kesh Piano Duo (4-hands at one piano). This is a medium ripe for exploration, but none of the pieces programmed rivalled the Kenneth Leighton sonata in which these young women excelled for PLG last autumn; their short programme left time enough to have repeated it as an encore.

Scottish-born pianist Christina Lawrie (pictured above) is a self effacing performer, admired in 2004; nothing distracting to watch, she instils confidence unassumingly with her control of structure, tone and dynamics; perhaps more of a radio and recording artist in the making than one to wow audiences? In a few weeks and by special request she had learnt the complete programme already scheduled for an indisposed PLGYM. That included Tippett's rhapsodic and elusive 4th sonata, played from memory with complete assurance and remarkable aplomb; an astonishing feat of professionalism.

The Purcell Room was not the ideal venue for Ruby Hughes, whose characterful soprano has a slightly metallic edge, not unattractive. She put over the frequently heard moral tale by Adès, cautioning about smoking after sex; a cabaret piece which would have been better at the end of an evening? Instead it was Messiaen's 1938 songs for his first wife which brought these PLG recital days to a finish, partnered sensitively by Lefki Karpodini - the high standard of 'accompanying' was a feature of the week.

° Nancy Ruffer and Mario Caroli (This CD review includes the Dillon and Ferneyhough pieces chosen by Richard Craig)


© Peter Grahame Woolf