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Park Lane Group 55th Season

PLGYA 2011 - "younger performers who haven’t yet made a name for themselves"

10-14 January 2011, Purcell Room,
South Bank Centre, London

This is an annual fixture on South Bank during a "dead" week during which Queen Elisabeth Hall is all but closed before the new year's concerts get under way.

Good to report that the first concert this year was one of the most invigorating ever under PLG auspices.

The Cello Octet Cellophony bids fair to inherit the mantle of of Conjunto Ibérico, who pioneered the medium for contemporary composers and have been widely acclaimed. [The Guardian's reviewer "scarcely knew there was enough cello octet repertoire to fill a concert, let alone justify the formation of a professional chamber group" !]

Subject to the contraints of their separate professional lives for geting together, Cellophony achieved miracles of ensemble and, especally, a ravishing joint pianissimo.

Two classics, by Berio and Boulez, were balanced by high quality novelties by Gorb and Birchall, their ordering was so canny that afterwards we were ready to indulge ourselves in the lyricism of Giovanni Sollima's eclectic blend of recent musics.

Their rapport and eye contact (without a conductor) made for a show which was as good to watch as to hear; a first CD is on the way - they should consider making a DVD or, at the least, getting some of their pieces onto YouTube.

Would anything else live up to that start to the week?

Of those we heard amongst the c.45 young artists featured, Rhona McKail evinced confidence but a Dickinson selection had her soprano voice held uncomfortably high for too long; impossible to get across words at that tessitura - but PLG did provide them and hers is a name to look out for as her career develops.

The Idomeneo Quartet enjoyed playing the Haydn academic Rowland-Jones' "assimilation of Haydn and music from many different periods and styles" in a "sort of 'anything goes'" (his words) and it passed pleasantly into forgetfulness; they gave an impressive account of Shostakovich 9, but the Purcell Room can be an unflattering ambience and to my ears the violins E strings had an unlovely metallic tone.

Pianists too need to select repertoire carefully there; N B Pifarre's piano was harsh to diminishing returns in Holt, nor did his City of Sound Colour by P-L Man succeed in fostering the naive hope that "the listener may wish to go to Barcelona and observe the images represented in the nine images"...

Korean Jennifer Lee was abrasive in Colin Matthews' Vigoroso, but the sly wit and "aeration" of Weir's I've turned the page" was gratifying. And Berio's long late Sonata, held together with an underlying B sounding throughout, was well worth a hearing in her assured account which completed a strenuous modernist hour for player and listener alike.

Cellist Jessie Ann Richardson looked uncomfortable on stage. She under-projected in the recital situation, hadn't memorised her unaccompanied solo and was not helped by the barrier to the audience which her music made across the middle of her instrument. I was led to think how famous cellists would have seized this and that phrase of R R Bennett's solo Partita to make it their own. Pianist Lynn Carter smothered Richardson's tone even on shortest stick, and did not characterise the Watkins sonata strongly enough (composer/pianist Huw was present).

The St James Wind Quintet (2 men and three girls on this occasion) went more for individual projection than for blend; they have a virtuoso bassoonist but the fickle horn was - fallible. Guitarist Manus Noble showed admirable sensitivity in novelties by MacCombie and Bloom; his pianissimo matched that of the eight cellists, which was a balm!

Despite more extravagant promotional hype this year - - "an ebullient and dazzling week - - hugely talented young musicians - - stupendous performances of every work guaranteed - - special young artists some of whom are going to become very famous", audiences were discouragingly small and faces mostly familiar; a club scene of promoters, publishers and composers whose music is being aired again - some critics have voiced reservations about the format - "listening to uninspired performances of pieces that should have been left in the decent obscurity of a publisher’s catalogue" [Telegraph]. I trust that PLG gets the Purcell Room for a peppercorn rent? Something seems to go wrong between the auditions and programme planning in negotiation with the PLG Committee?

Peter Grahame Woolf

Mark Dennis adds:

Shostakovich 9 was an ambitious choice for the young Idomeneo Quartet, with its uninterrupted progress coupled with the way that each of the players is exposed to the listener individually. I suppose that you can say that this also makes an ideal showcase for the quartet and for its individual members if it comes off - which I think it did. Incidentally we wondered whether they lost their way a bit in the Simon Rowland-Jones quartet, or was it the work itself which lost its way? But they (or it) seemed to recover by the end.


We weren't overly impressed by the second concert. Baritone John Savournin had a fine range and presence, after a slightly nervous start, but his choice of repertoire did not appeal.


The Fournier Piano Trio played with delicacy and solemnity in Turnage’s A Short Procession Turnage., but we felt their choice of material wasn't varied enough.


The early Thursday cello recital seemed rather long. Jessie Ann Richardson needed either a ‘big’ piece (for example the Poulenc Sonata of 1948 would have fitted PLG's requirementss) or a really big, fast piece to end with a fizz. I had expected the Huw Watkins sonata to fill the bill, but it never really took off. The best in her programme was the delicate performance of a piece by Joseph Phibbs, who is completing an opera on Malcolm Lowry's 'Under the Volcano'.