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PLG Young Artists 2006
9 - 13 January 2006, Purcell Room

Carducci String Quartet
Lancier Brass Quintet
Alasdair Beatson
O Duo & Eaton-Young Piano Duo
Elena Vorotko
TRIPTYCH (Rachel Baldock, Matthew Orange & Bethany Phillips)
Sally Price
Melissa Doeke & Mary Callanan

The PLG Young Artists week 2006 got off to a magnificent start in an international programme, with two groups and a solo pianist who all came up to proof and fulfilled high expectations. The Carducci String Quartet had honed their accounts of new miniatures by Kurtag and Dutilleux's now very popular Ainsi la nuit to a high pitch of refinement; totally secure in harmonics and pianissimo. In Horowitz's quartet for the Amadeus Quartet (1969) they had an opportunity to show that they are equally at home in high romanticism.

The Lancier Brass Quintet demonstrated the health of British brass playing with commanding authority in Berio's Call, but on a night when there wasn't another concert next door it would have been an imaginative idea to have located their contribution out in the kinder acoustic of the foyer.

Alasdair Beatson (as duo-partner a frequent participator previously in these concerts) gave by memory an astonishingly commanding performance of Dutilleux's big Piano Sonata, notable for his filligree finger work in this gratifyingly pianistic yet dauntingly complex early work by PLG's featured composer, who will be 90 next week. I hope Beatson will go on to explore its rarely heard predecessors by Dukas and the even more neglected Sonate of D'Indy*?

Fuller reports from some of these PLGYA concerts will be added; they are long evenings, two each night, 6.15 & 7.45 Monday to Friday (with also some lunch time concerts, which we were unable to cover).

* re: D'Indy's Sonate : After searching for recordings for many years, I have discovered a useful, if sonically limited, Midi recording by Thomas Lefeldt to listen to with the Durand score. [PGW]


On paper, Tuesday's looked to be a good programme, with two groups combining to make a real concert, instead of just taking turns as more usual in the PLG weeks. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the second course after the interval was a let down, with some very forgettable pieces and a lack-lustre account of the popular Bartok quartet.

It got off to a jubilant start with a so-claimed improvisation Bongo Fury to get the girls screeching, which they continued doing through the evening when the climaxes were loud enough. The pianists made the most of the internal resonances of their Steinways in Dutilleux's small pieces and the foursome ended with a compelling account of Berio'swandering melodic line, heightened by percussion colouring. One not infrequent small distraction in contemporary music concerts; the two turner-overers had a thicket of scattered pages to gether from the floor, before they made their way out through another thicket of potted plants on the stage!

But repertoire is often the Achilles heel of these concerts. Hesketh's piece was unredeemably noisy, little else; the sort of music that used to give duo-piano its bad reputation. Nor did Gordon's for the percussionists deserve its time/space in the programme; and the early Ligeti choice (piano/percussion arrangements) was not worthy to represent the great composer's 80th Anniversary.

Bartok's sonata was neither precisely synchronised nor tonally clarified; lacking a conductor to hold everything together securely. One problem was over-pedalling which tended to muddy the textures, and another is the historical fact that this was so new a genre that the composer was understandably cautious in his demands of the percussionists, whose skills today have taken the medium to new heights.

Guitar shared with flute looked promising for the final evening concert but, as rather often, repertoire was the problem, as it often is for guitar. Simon Thacker's stiff, unsmiling manner didn't help his presentation. Intriguing in prospect was David Fennessy's piece for two-guitars-in-one (three nylon strings tuned sharp of the three steel strings) but the musical content did not sustain that gimmick.

Melissa Doecke fared better, impressing with her stamina in Giles Swayne's extended 15 minute re-development of an earlier 9 mins piece with chorus, Ophelia Drowning, even though the most enthusiastic applause was for the stage assistant who set up the six music stands across which the score was carefully stretched! An affecting piece which eschews extended techniques and is a worthwhile challenge for flautists, who should try to play it from memory. Melissa Doecke, partnered ably by her RAM colleague Mary Callanan, did so for her countryman Carl Vine's intricate flute/piano duo sonata, a winning concert piece which invites, and received here, an extrovert virtuosity, which won a warm response. If Vine (director of 'the largest chamber music intrepreneur in the world' !) had been British, his sonata would desrvedly be a popular recital item.

ELENA VOROTKO solo piano
Henri Dutilleux Three Preludes 1973/88
Elisabeth Lutyens Five Bagatelles, Op 49 1962

Brian Elias Variations 1987
Artem Vassiliev ***Three Etudes 2005


TRIPTYCH oboe/bassoon/piano trio
SALLY PRYCE solo harp
Michael Finnissy Keroiylu 1981 (trio)
Conlon Nancarrow Trio No 2 1991 (trio)
Phillip Neil Martin Constellations 2000 (trio)
Heinz Holliger **Partita (II) 2004 (harp

Elena Vorotko
, who is also a specialist in early keyboard music and instruments, began her strenuous contemporary programme with Dutilleux, relishing the subtle "glassiness and transparency" of timbres in his substantial Preludes. After Lutyens' trenchant Bagatelles (more welcome nowadays than they probably would have been in the early '60s) Elena was rescued from her intrusively squeaky piano stool, a distraction which hopefully will not be too conspicuous on the close-miked R3 broadcast. She demonstrated more extrovert virtuosity in the first three of a projected set of didactic piano studies by her husband. Vassiliev seeks to explore 'some conventional and unconventional aspects of modern piano techniques', most engagingly in a bruising glissando study. Elena Vorotko's major choice was Elias's tough 49 Variations on Beethoven's 32, included as a tribute to Susan Bradshaw. The composer was present to hear it, also Julian Jacobson, who premiered the work in 1987, and Christina Mairi Lawrie who gave it as a PLGYA in 2004. Not an easy work to learn to love; good that the BBC has recorded the evening's concerts for future transmission, presumably on Hear & Now.

In the later concert Sally Pryce left no doubt of her skill and enterprise in bringing to London Heinz Holliger's recent Partita (II) which extends harp technique by bowing strings (no more than a gimmick, as with Frances-Marie Uitti's cello playing with two bows simultaneously) and, more promisingly, using metal tuning keys to produce glissandi on one string. But Holliger is a dour composer and each movement long outstayed its welcome.

brought ravishing ensemble to Finnissy's haunting folk-derived Keroiylu and to Nancarrow's exuberant Trio No 2, which would suit other combinations, such as normal piano trio or clarinet/cello/piano too, and find a welcome everywhere. Characteristic of the composer even without his trade-mark multiple rhythms, it is genuinely witty music, bringing a smile to what can be an over-serious series.

See also: Mark Dennis at PLGYA
and Classical Source's review of Vorotko, Pryce and Tryptich




© Peter Grahame Woolf