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Kings Place Opening Festival 1-5 October 08

Ligeti Dunhill Bowen Schoenberg
Endymion Ensemble

Michael Dussek - Piano; Krysia Osostowicz - Violin; Jane Salmon/Adrian Bradbury - Cello; Mark van de Wiel - Clarinet; Stephen Stirling - Horn

Kings Place, 1 October 2008 90 York Way, London N1 (020 7520 1490)

This was as auspicious a day as London has seen for decades, a new arts complex with two concert halls, art galleries, and welcoming public spaces with cafe and restaurant - all in the middle of an eye catching new commercial building behind Kings Cross Station and alongside a picturesque canal basin.

It is fitting that we take our first illustration from today's Metro, which celebrates today "the most extraordinary shake-up of London's classical music scene in decades" and highlights the achieved vision "capitalism directly supporting culture" of Peter Millican brought to fruition with architects Jeremy Dixon and Edward Jones.

For Musical Pointers, the Endymion Ensemble - which we have supported ever since their Residency at Blackheath Halls - was a perfect choice to be openers in this showcase of 100 three-quarter hour events spread over five days, and to have been invited to return soon for a weekly residence at Kings Place, one of the most gratifying performance spaces they can ever have known.

We heard four contrasting works, which I shall note in reverse order. Schoenberg's 1st Chamber Symphony - a "party piece" of London Sinfonietta, which has opted for Kings Place as its new home - can be one of the most unsettling works to listen to because of its density. It is no easier in Webern's reduced version, and might have benefitted from a conductor to balance the parts shared between piano trio and two winds, flute and clarinet.

York Bowen (the York Bowen Society has been re-launched) is enjoying something of a revival just now; but his exuberant music (often overbalanced with virtuosic piano parts for the composer-pianist himself) needs careful vetting; the piano trio Op 118, mercifully not overlong, is not one of his best chamber works.

Thomas Dunhill's charming Quintet Op 3 was another matter; here the indefatigable violinist and pianist (who had no rest throughout) were joined by horn and clarinet - a felicitous combination which was perfectly balanced by the artists. It starts with a variations movement and emounts towards the end with a grandiloquent peroration, but has many delights to offer on the way and certainly convinces that this uncommon chamber combination is one that today's composers might well explore?

First, and best to remember, was their account of the extraordinary Ligeti horn trio, subtitled Hommage to Brahms, and pure Ligeti at his most fascinating. At Blackheath Sunday Mornings recently they had given those two composers' horn trios in tandem with tremendous success, completely winning over the conservative audience there.

The new Hall One at Kings Place, built in a low basement to exclude traffic sound, has marvellous acoustics - researched by Dixon Jones and Arup's acousticians in a dozen Japanese concert halls - warm and clear, variable for classical and other musics as well as for speech, and practically free of such intrusive sounds as compromise listening satisfaction in so many halls. Londoners are sure to flock to a venue which is one of the most functional and attractive in the Capital.

Other events in this week's festival will be added and readers are advised to get there before too many of the remaining concerts are sold out !

Photos: Metro (Eammonn McCabe) and "thisislondon"

Kings Place 90 York Way, London N1 (020 7520 1490)

Four String-Piano Duos

Schumann to Janacek, Bartok and Prokofiev

Peter Cropper with Martin Roscoe, October 2 at Kings Place

This history of the violin sonata series (we missed Handel to Schubert at 9.30 a.m.!) began disconcertingly with some rough violin playing in Schumann's Op 105. But veteran Peter Cropper soon settled and during the morning, in three 45-minutes sessions, was to be heard some of the most intensely expressive and musical duo playing encountered for a long time.

The last time we had heard Cropper was with his Lindsay String Quartet, shortly before they disbanded, at the London Chamber Music Society Sunday Series at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square.

That venerable Sunday early evening series, priced inexpensively, which I have been attending on and off for some sixty years, has a loyal clientele of chamber music enthusiasts. Now, after practically 80 years at Conway Hall, it is transferring to Kings Place next Sunday, still at 6.30; convenient for arrivals on Eurostar, but not all Conway Hall regulars were looking forward to the change...

Peter Cropper introduced each item and drew on his vast performing and teaching experience, lamenting the primacy for "correctness" of his students. This duo, who play regularly together, are well attuned. Ending with the unduly neglected 1st Prokofiev sonata (for Cropper a towering masterpiece of the genre) he joked that the piano was bigger than the violin, making for unfair competition, but at Kings Place there was no balance problem. The sound was wonderfully focussed and clear, equally so the spoken introductions without recourse to microphones (see later !). My only caveat was that Martin Roscoe was not brought into the dialogue.

The performances were deeply insightful and most of us would have been encouraged to attend a full version of their History of the Violin Sonata, which would require three full length recitals.

A last sampling of the opening festival's 100 events was a Saturday afternoon, October 4th, spent in the company of three pairs of younger, but firmly established, duos in three 45-mins recitals.

These were curated by Colin Matthews, who introduced them for Radio 3 future broadcasts. Matthews has been engaged already in recording at Kings Place Hall One (100 songs commissioned for NMC's 20 years celebration) and his placing of Schumann and Britten alongside little known examples of his own music made for three riveting sessions, which I heard in three different locations in the hall.

Perhaps most memorable of all was the fire which Alexandra Wood and Huw Watkins brought to several of Matthews' gift pieces and to movements of Britten's early duo, which on this hearing sounds to have become under-rated.

Beforehand, time allowed for lunch (good catering, less expensive than South Bank Centre) and exploration of the building inside and out - a walk along the tow-path across the canal was a special pleasure.

Contemporary visual art in many styles abounds, and a surprise delight just before departing was catching A Memory... After Bach's Cello Suites by Idris Khan, with Gabriella Swallow, and Beyrouth by Joshua Mosley, two imaginative short films screened in the St Pancras Room, and watched from the relaxing comfort of floor cushions...

Peter Grahame Woolf

see also Opera & Voice at Kings Place 1-2 Octoberhttp://www.musicalpointers.co.uk/reviews/LiveEvents08/ClassicalOperaCoRAMOpera.html