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PLG Young Artists 2003 (47th Season)
Louisa Breen piano
Zephyr Ensemble wind quintet
Xuefei Yang guitar
Spengler Piano Trio

Purcell Room 8 & 10 January 2003

For a decade and more I have been reviewing, in various paper publications and websites, the annual Park Lane Group's Young Artists concerts which open each New Year's London season, previously managing to hear most of the thirty odd musicians featured from up to a couple of hundred auditioned, this year only two soloists and two groups.

Standards are high and there are no invidious decisions to be made or controversial accolades to be awarded by hard pressed jurors; the concerts themselves are the prizes, and PLG helps to foster the careers of some of its young musicians, many famous artists of their generations. Nowadays the media coverage (including recording for R3 broadcast) is wider, even though the audience sizes remain about the same, rarely quite filling the Purcell Room for concerts of unusual modern repertoire.

Many of those attending are professionally involved, agents, publishers, & teachers, with a procession of composers coming to the platform to congratulate the accomplished young interpreters of their music. The mutually reinforcing club atmosphere is pervasive. Although it is a nominally international there is a strong preponderance of works by British composers and an expressed preference for performing musicians who are likely to remain in UK.

Louisa Breen, originally from Australia, gave Eight Bagatelles by the Australian Keith Humble (1927-95) efficiently; routine, unmemorable modernism of his time. Thomas Adès deconstructed Dowland's lute song In Darknesse Let Mee Dwell, offering me nothing to match the original.

Geoffrey Poole is embarked on a marathon 64 pieces Chinese I Ching book of piano pieces, some minimally simple, with more meat in The Last Straw, which "careers towards catastrophe at the end". The last of Jonathan Harvey's early Four Images after Yeats (1969) solved a problem for those PLG pianists who wanted to escape the contemporary music ghetto, giving them an opportunity to show their paces in undigested chunks of Bach, Mozart, Schumann, Liszt, Scriabin and Schoenberg; forgivable for a 20 yr old composer, but for a thirty year old, I'm not so sure!

The Zephyr Ensemble made a good case for Philip Cashian's amid the bleached stars and suns, with the reeds counterpointed by Emma-Louise Hible's bass flute the other side of the platform, and an offstage (slightly too distant) horn to add atmosphere. Birtwistle's very early Refrains and Choruses had worn well - he apparently wrote them "off the top of my head" and admitted he could not justify a single note. So much the better!

The Chinese guitarist Xuefei Yang held us in thrall with her instrument's dynamic range, from pianissimos nearly as quiet as a clavichord to thunderous explosions in Xiaoyong Chen's Static and Rotation. Robert Saxton's Night Dance is a strong programme piece which deserves a place in every guitarist's repertoire. (These double concerts (6 to after 9.30) make for long evenings, and I did not hear the second half of the Zephyr Ensemble and Xuefei Yang's shared programme.)

From my anti-nationalistic perspective, The Spengler Trio's tight packaging of their allotted 60 minutes made for a gratifying and particularly nourishing concert programme. Marija Spengler from Belgrade met her colleagues at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where the trio was founded in 2001. Martin Sturfält trained in his native Sweden and has recorded for Scandinavian radio. Marie McLeod is a graduate of the Yehudi Menuhin School, with many prizes and medals to her name.

Philip Grange's 17 min Homage to Chagall (1995) has a complex construction with cross referencing and well merited revival; a strong piece which needs rehearing, as too did the more evidently original items from France and Sweden. Dusapin is beginning to be heard more often here; his Trio Rombach was given without explanation of the title, nor was there any programme note (by the composer's preference). Its chief interest was textural, as too was the case in Britta Byström's A Symphony in Yellow, given its world premiere at this concert, both those works inhabiting fanciful, evocative sound worlds, and requiring cool heads to put together for performance. The playing was notably secure throughout, with impressive steadiness in sustained harmonics. The Spengler Trio's programme must have required countless hours of preparation and I look forward to hearing them also in mixed repertoire.


For PGW's reviews of previous PLG Young Artists weeks
*see www.musicweb.uk.net/SandH/2001
and search for PLG at musicweb.uk.net/SandH/2002/Feb02/PGW75.htm

*For another notable multinational chamber ensemble, read about
the Orpheus Quartet, whose members are Romanian, French & Dutch with German
their working language Orpheus.htm

© Peter Grahame Woolf