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Chamber Music from Debussy to Crane

Debussy: Cinq Poemes de Baudelaire Laurence Crane: Piano Quintet (World premiere) Shostakovich: Quartet No.8 in C minor Op.110 Piazzolla: Four for Tango
A Cabaret Festschrift: Songs by Charlotte Bray, Robert Fokkens, Laurence Crane and Dougal Irvine (World premiere)

Anne Sophie Duprels (soprano) Andrew Matthews-Owen (piano) Brodowski Quartet

Purcell Room, Southbank, London, October 16th 2011

The soprano Anne Sophie Duprels proved a fitting replacement for the indisposed Claire Booth in this rare appearance in the capital as a recitalist.

Debussy's Baudelaire settings were conceived on a vast scale, the influence of Wagner permeating both structure and harmony. Lasting nearly 30 minutes, they are complex and technically demanding for both singer and pianist. We were blessed on Sunday night in having artists of such imagination and technical security as Duprels and Matthews-Owen.

Duprels took us through every emotion and vista, her rich lyric soprano navigating the highs and lows of the score with natural identification and total absorption. A star of the opera platform, she utilises the same dramatic qualities in her recital performances and, in music of this scale, it works wonderfully.

Matthews-Owen matched Duprels on each step of the journey. His playing is a combination of conviction and intelligence (he is no stranger to complex modern scores) paired with an array of vivid pianistic colours which illuminate the singer's reflections. A fine duo.

The focus of the evening was the launch of the Richard Thomas Foundation, Laurence Crane's Piano Quintet the first result fruit of its creation. Crane certainly has a following, and some of what we heard on this occasion was moving and hypnotic in its minimalism. What was curious was Crane's refusal to allow quartet and pianist to play together. Most of the work had a rather 'us' and 'him' feel to them. The most memorable moments came when the musicians' scores collided. Otherwise, repeated figures, the same figures, repeated again and again, lost my attention, even with the quintet performing the score with the utmost commitment and care.

In the Shostakovich that we heard what the Brodowski Quartet is truly capable of. It was a performance of startling energy, which reflected the deep trauma the composer was experiencing as he wrote the work in a frenzy over 3 days; an angry score, dedicated to the memory of the victims of 'fascism and war'. . The Brodowskis held us in rapt attention, from stabbing motifs and lilting passages of regret, every emotion was reactivated, every part as clear as the next. It was a master class in ensemble playing.

The quartet then wisely lightened the mood with Piazolla's Four for Tango, a piece of dazzling exuberance evoking the dance rhythms of the composer's native Latin America. It was dramatic on the eye and thrilling on the ear. A fitting and brilliant conclusion to their contribution.

A short selection of varied songs ended the evening, the most affecting being 2 poignant songs by Charlotte Bray and Robert Fokkens - composers of the younger generation who are making their mark with original and memorable writing. These songs evoked some of Shakespeare's sonnets arranged as haiku by Richard Thomas' wife Caroline. The words and music were concentrated and beautiful, and perfectly executed by the soprano and pianist. We are told these two songs mark the start of an ongoing collaboration setting these haiku. We eagerly await more!

This moving and memorable evening was preceded by a pre-concert talk held between the composers and chaired, with customary panache, by BBC Proms presenter Katie Derham. Composers rarely do themselves justice in these events, but Bray and Fokkens charmed in their honesty and genuine passion for what they do.

Caroline McGee