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Sulki Yu (violin)

Consortium5 (recorders)
Pei-Jee Ng (cello)

Southbank Centre, London – Purcell Room, January 05, 2009

This year's selection of younger musicians with an interest in contemporary music got off to an excellent start with a well conceived recital by violinist Sulki Yu, who will have a great future if there is any justice in the crowded instrumental performance world.

Her appearance was striking, alone on stage in a lovely long white dress, flanked on either side by massed palms (Kentians & Avecas), playing by memory - a compliment to the composer - the third of Edwin Roxburgh's Soliloquies for solo strings. This is an expressive, indeed passionate, work with several characteristic and virtuosic sections interposed; not easy, however, to tell when those came and went. The set might merit being heard together, the project reminding me of Thomas Simaku's three Soliloquies.

For three of Salvatore Sciarrino's marvellous 6 Capricci per violino solo (enjoyed recently at Kings Place) Sulki Yu had the music on three music stands, though it was hard to believe that she could be relying on the scores whilst revelling in music which was entirely composed in extended techniques; never a normally bowed note to be heard.

Away with the music stands again for Bartok's solo Sonata, which sounded strangely old-fashioned and neo-Bachian in this context. The programme, given with complete security and enviable aplomb, would be good for a CD, with all six Caprices, of course... Meanwhile, do see Sulki Yu play Beethoven on line.


The second recital, shared between Consortium5 (recorder quintet) and Pei-Jee Ng (solo cello) was a come down. Consortium5's appearance at the Purcell Room wasn't a patch on their brilliant contribution to the Greenwich EMF 2008. Those newly composed works for recorders which I heard were unpersuasive, and too much time was spent distractingly on the floor, putting down and picking up the various instruments (one work was titled Quintet for Fifteen recorders); they'd do better to have small tables next to their chairs. They seemed to have been inhibited by the formality of the arrangements for these concerts?

The cellist Pei-Jee Ng is a strong but rather unsubtle player; he lacks Sulki Yu's compelling charisma.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Nicholas Reed – percussion
Xenakis - Rebonds A + B
Piers Hellawell – Let’s Dance
Philippe Manoury – Le Livre des Claviers IV
James Wood - Rogosanti

Rafal Luc – solo accordion
Hans Abrahamsen – Air
Sofia Gubaidulina – De Profundis
Ligeti - Musica Ricercata 2,3,6
Giles Swayne – Squeezy

Zalas Trio
John McCabe – Fauvel’s Rondeaux
Jonathan Harvey – Clarinet Trio
Bartok – Contrasts

The second evening of the Park Lane Group's annual January concerts began with a solo percussion recital from Nicolas Reed, whose instruments filled the entire stage. He He performed an ambitious and contrasting selection of contemporary pieces and was both serious and enthusiastic in his approach.

It was particularly interesting to hear the vibraphone piece by former IRCAM member Philippe Manoury, for me the highlight of this recital. The opening work by Xenakis, for a range of drums, also worked well; the right and left sides of the performer's body are used in contrasting ways so it is visually as well as musically entertaining.

The later concert was shared between Rafal Luc, a solo accordionist from Poland, and the Zalas Trio (piano, violin, clarinet) who formed their ensemble whilst at the Royal College of Music.

The highlight for me was how well a transcription of Ligeti's early piano work Musica Ricercata worked for accordion - most especially the waltz-based No 3. This eastern European work also linked to the closing piece, a very enjoyable account of Bartok's Contrasts. The third movement was particularly well performed.

The other works this talented group performed were more challenging for the listener. Fauvel’s Rondo, a ‘gigantic rondo’, based loosely on material from McCabe’s ballet Edward II, explored a contrast between playful entertainment and darker intrigue and conspiracy.

A short trio by Jonathan Harvey used the piano only with its lid closed, changing the balance between the instruments and creating a ghostly effect. Both McCabe and Harvey were present, as was Giles Swayne, who had a work for accordion premiered by Rafal Luc. This gave us in yhe audience the feeling of being close observers of an evolving creative process, which can be so exciting about contemporary music events, especially small and intimate ones such as this.

Technical difficulty foreshortened the performance of Swayne’s work which, despite being written in 1994, is still to be heard in public in its entirety. Luc’s most successful item was a very competent performance of Sofia Gubaidulina’s De Profundis, originally written for the bayan – a Russian type of accordion. This work based on Psalm 130 explores the instrument’s potential widely and is a good showcase for the performer.

This was an interesting and varied evening of music and the year has got off to a good start.

Julie Williams



James Kreiling (piano)


David Matthews – Two Dionysus Dithyrambs

James MacMillan – Piano Sonata

Giles Easterbrook – Twenty-five variations for solo piano

John McCabe – Tenebrae


Clariphonics (clarinet quartet)


Sadie Harrison – Scathach

Dai Fujikura – Cari4nics

Haris Kittos – Toy Escape

Robert Fokkens – Glimpses of a half-forgotten future (wp)

Anna Meredith – Four to the Floor

Jim Pywell – Three Beginnings


Kiri Parker (soprano)

Elizabeth Rossiter (piano)


Elizabeth Maconchy – Sun, Moon and Stars

John Woolrich – A Paper of Black Lines (wp)

Michael Berkeley – Nettles

Nicola LeFanu – I am Bread

Judith Weir – A Spanish Liederbooklet


Southbank Centre, London – Purcell Room, January 07, 2009


The thick chords and rhapsodic polyphony of David Matthews’s Two Dionysus Dithyrambs allowed James Kreiling to establish himself as a pianist with a deft touch – especially in the left hand – and a sure control of extended melodic and harmonic line. His thoughtful playing was undone a little, however, by some lacklustre programming. On paper there should have been something to really sink his interpretive teeth into – MacMillan’s icy shards, Easterbrook’s compressed variations, or the daunting scale of the McCabe. But only the latter really convinced, its 20 intense minutes providing a serious structural challenge, met well by Kreiling. The dramatically hushed finale of this piece and a fleeting revisit of the opening bars was one of the strongest moments of his recital.


Four bass clarinets is a devilishly tricky ensemble – just think of all that air that has to be agitated and held in check behind four little bamboo slivers – which made the sharp cuts and thrusts of Harrison’s Scathach a gripping way to open the second of the evening’s recitals. Clariphonics are a nerveless quartet, even with one deputy (Louise Haines) standing in for the indisposed regular Benjie Del Rosario. Their musical choices were exciting too and were played with more than enough verve to compensate for occasional technical flaws. Fujikura’s study in multiphonics was, typically, a simple idea deftly executed – like a well-made chair – but the highlight was Kittos’s Toy Escape. Inspired by the inventiveness of children’s games it flickered and tumbled and unravelled and coalesced in wonderfully chaotic fashion. If these are children playing games, they have short attention spans, competitive instincts and electric imaginations.


Either side of the interval Parker and Rossiter presented a short recital of songs by English composers. A sultry, commanding presence, probably better suited to the stage than the recital hall, Parker found plenty of sexy undertones in LeFanu’s I am Bread, but much of the music was relatively indifferent and made little impression. With one extraordinary exception. Rossiter was an excellent accompanist throughout (I found more colour in her playing than Kreiling’s, in fact), but her finest moment came in the piano-only ‘Entr’acte’ from Woolrich’s A Paper of Black Lines, the third chord of which descended with the dark, smothering weight of a concrete duvet. Nothing else in the recital could match this moment for me but, in that asphyxiated second, everything was brought suddenly into sharp focus.


When they returned, Clariphonics maintained their inventive programming selection. Fokkens’s Glimpses of a half-forgotten future began nicely, but innocuously, with a folky little melody passed between three clarinets. It grabbed my attention when this was abruptly shoved against a thick, static, microtonal chord, and held it rapt as the two elements alternated in quiet procession, the microtonal kinks slowly infecting the folky melody. The final two pieces eased off the gas – Meredith’s Four to the Floor was most notable for its fat bass clarinet woofs, and Pywell’s Three Beginnings, paradoxically, ended the evening in sparkling style.

Tim Rutherford-Johnson


Eliza McCarthy (piano)


Camden Reeves – Das Hexenklavier

Michael Torke – Blue Pacific (ukp)

George Crumb – Makrokosmos, Volume I

Oscar Peterson, transcr. Jonathan Shenoy – A Little Jazz Exercise


Sirocco Quartet (saxophone quartet)


David Horne – Gossamer

Charlotte Bray – Throw Back

Tansy Davies – Leaf Springs (wp)

Paul Patterson – Diversions


Victoria Simonsen (cello)


Matthias Pintscher – Figura V / Assonanza

Luciano Berio – Sequenza XIV

Lyell Cresswell – Atta


Southbank Centre, London – Purcell Room, January 08, 2009


Eliza McCarthy set herself up for a difficult evening. The centrepiece of her recital, Crumb’s Makrokosmos, was a hugely ambitious choice: long, disjointed and almost entirely extended techniques. I’m also not sure it’s terribly interesting music, so preoccupied is it with making clever sounds (or not so clever – would it hurt to come off the sustain pedal once in a while?). I’m afraid this performance didn’t tempt me to change my mind. The Torke was, simply, awful music. The composer tells us that “the notation is merely the foundation of the expression ... tempo, dynamics and shape will vary from one performer to the next; each must be guided by their musical instincts”, which is a pretentious way of saying nothing remarkable. Despite these grand words, Torke still doesn’t give the performer any real interpretive freedom, asking them instead to wade through embarrassing schmaltz better suited to a Billy Crystal rom-com. In this sort of company the more modest offerings from Reeves (a trio of grim perpetual motions, like Edgar Allan Poe as sound) and Shenoy’s Peterson transcription sounded fresh and attractive; McCarthy played both with spirit and finesse.


The PLG Young Artists series is a venerable institution and a crucial initiative in the development of young performing talent in this country. However, I’m beginning to wonder how much, musically, it has to offer to impartial observers without a connection to the Group itself or any of the performers. Contemporary or recent-ish music is a programming requirement, but for many performers the temptation is to forgo the risks of tackling some of the great 20th-century chamber repertoire and to stick to mid-table fare from lesser-known figures. The first half of the Sirocco Quartet’s recital fell into this category, and made no impression on me beyond a general flashiness that showed off the quartet’s talents (tight ensemble, good balance, beautifully controlled timbre across their full range), but that only gave the impression of adventure without ever taking any real risks. The Davies was neatly arranged, but lacked interesting material or development. Patterson’s Diversions is intended as a witty showpiece, and did its job more memorably than the other three works, but I wished the group – who can play – had stretched themselves further in their choice of repertoire.


Victoria Simonsen took the opposite route, taking a risk with some heavyweight music, and her choices of Berio and Pintscher were welcome. Although she met the considerable technical challenges of both pieces, I felt that her performances – especially in the Berio – needed a little more confidence. The Pintscher, a skein of delicate harmonics, was texturally on the edge, but could have used more differentiation between phrases to prevent it becoming too predictable. The Cresswell was less interesting music, but in its wide and overt emotional range it showed Simonsen at her best.


Tim Rutherford-Johnson


FRIDAY 9 6.15
solo piano
Stockhausen Klavierstuck IX
Elliott Carter Catenaires
Anthony Gilbert Sonata No.3
Scriabin Sonata No.7 'White Mass


FRIDAY 9 7.45
Solstice string quartet
Rosemary Burton bassoon Christopher White piano

Ligeti Quartet No.1 (1954)

Bassoon/ piano:
John Casken Blue Medusa (2002)
Graham Sheen Three American Sketches (2008)
Graham Waterhouse Phoenix arising (2008)
Anthony Payne The Enchantress Plays (1991)

Giles Swayne Threnody (2007)
Kurtag 12 Microludes, Op.13 (1977)
Joe Cutler Folk Music (2007)




Benjamin Powell, now staff pianist at the Royal Northern College of Music, impressed his small audience immediately as a well equipped pianist from the first moments, repeating many times the chord which opens Stockhausen's best known piano piece from the '50s; straight back, long fingers and relaxed hands which brought out infinite variations of tne and volume down to nearly inaudible ppp.


The confidence he emanated continued throughout his brief but enormously demanding programme. Carter's exhilarating five minute Catenaires recently composed for Pierre-Laurent Aimard (hear him playing its UK premiere at the first night of the Proms) may well become an established favourite with high virtuoso pianists - a fast single line which proceeds as "a continuous chain of notes, with spacings, accents and colourings seeking a wide variety of expression".

Anthony Gilbert's Sonata No 3, a response to watching the flight of a goshawk, also features a swift moving single line as well as birdsong flourishes in a piece of tonal and rhythmic subtlety. Finally a commanding account of Skriabin's (now) rarely played mystical White Mass sonata; the audience demanded an encore, for which there was ample time remaining, but were disappointed (PLG's policy does not encourage them).


The players in the final concert were met by a near full house, a rarity in this series. The bassoonist has solid virtues which will be invaluable in orchestras, but she did not bring a soloist's flair to her contributions this evening, and the selected music left us with little once it was played. Her pianist did not always judge well the right volume to support her; the bassoon (hers anyway) is not an assertive instrument and more tact was needed not to swamp Rosemary Burton at times.


The Solstice String Quartet is in a different class, and brought the proceedings to an end impressively. The first of Ligeti's quartets is the more infrequently played, and this group made a strong case for it, with impeccable ensemble and tonal variety. The tiny Kurtag Microudes (twelve miniatures in 9 minutes) were Webernesque gestures; minimalist but each making its economical point surely. Cutler's Fok Music was a welcome upbeat finisher.


Out in the foyer, we were greeted by the brave sound of a horn quartet, beginning a late night concert in The Front Room, a PLG innovation this yearr. And Director John Woolf had reminded us earlier not to ignore PLG concerts throughout the year; the first to be James Barralet and Hiroaki Takenouchi at Wigmore Hall January 19th.


Peter Grahame Woolf