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British Composers

Cornelius Cardew: Solo with Accompaniment
Howard Skempton: Gloss (World premiere)
Jonathan Harvey: Ah! Sun-flower
Colin Matthews: Out in the dark for soprano & piano
John Woolrich: Stendhal's Observation for mezzo-soprano & piano
Philip Cashian: The Songs few hear (World premiere)
Rolf Hind: Fire in the Head (World premiere)
George Nicholson: Selection from Bagatelles for oboe & percussion (London premiere)
Alun Hoddinott: A Contemplation upon flowers (Myfanwy Piper) (London premiere)

Claire Booth soprano [R]
Andrew Matthews-Owen piano
Janey Miller oboe
Joby Burgess percussion

SBC Purcell Room 1 March 2011, 6.30 & 7:45pm

A potentially attractive concert which in the event failed, partly due to appalling presentation. In the single A4 programme sheet given out at the door there was no information about any of the composers or about their works to be played, especially no texts of the vocal items [links above for those who wish to explore further].

The 6 30 half-hour pre-concert interviews, with an audience of only a dozen (too early?) were embarrassing more than illuminating. We were confronted by an elaborate recording studio set-up, with most of twenty microphones, six of them across the front of the platform for the interviewer and interviewees. Skempton, who had been "on the road" talking about Cardew, knocked his microphone to a noisy "Cageian moment".

In interview, Cashian (represented by simple little Songs few hear - chips off the block written as diversion from work on major compositions). Hind feels that we are into a new age of composer/performers. Wordsworth, Hoddinott's publisher's latter-day representative, told how composers "go in and out of fashion" and urged revaluation of Alun, who admitted to have been over-prolific but couldn't stop writing music until the day he died.

Hoddinotts's Myfanwy Piper songs were notable for rich harmonies in the accompaniments, played authoritatively by Matthews-Owen. Claire Booth (first noted as Daniel in Handel's Susanna) took confident command of the stage as is her way, and brought a welcome splash of colour amongst the drab men, all attired in sober concert black. Some of her songs followed without breaks between composers; I only realised we'd got to Woolrich's Stendhal's Observation when the word "observed" emerged...

Claire was in fine voice and compelled attention, but there are few contemporary songs in which even the best of sopranos can get across the sense of poems without texts to see. The promised "newly-established quartet" failed to appear; the only cross-over between the two pairs of artists was that Burgess supplied some muted percussion enhancements to two of three Hoddinottt songs given in a reduced version.

Neither Burgess nor his oboist partner Janey Miller had good opportunities to show their joint skills, first noted in Rotterdam 2001 and admired latterly in recital and on CD.

Cardew's "joke" (Solo with Accompaniment for variable instrumentation) wore thin; it was that Janey, Cardew's "soloist", was largely confined to repeating long single notes whilst Joby, her "accompanist", busily stole the limelight, mainly on vibraphone (marimba would have been more effective in the louder parts). Joby Burgess came into his own in the third of four Nicholson Bagatelles, but their concert premiere left no urgent desire to hear again the complete set, which the duo has recorded.

I could not feel that money from the RVW Trust had been well spent supporting this event. Throughout the evening the microphones were adjusted by a sound engineer; we were not vouchsafed the destination of the recordings*.

Peter Grahame Woolf

* The recording was for BBC R3's Saturday late night Hear & Now programme; check its upcoming schedule. PGW

See also Hilary Finch in The Times (online for subscribers only !):


Image: Sven Arnstein