City of London Festival 2011
Handel With plaintive note (from Samson)
Malin Christensson soprano
Sometimes interest at concerts in the City of London Festival may centre upon rare opportunities to visit attractive venues which, however, vary in their acoustics. St Giles at The Barbican is regularly used, but it can have problems.
But there was a tendency for high notes to emerge loud and a bit shrill, often on notes which weren't key to the phrase, and didn't carry the meaning of the text. This was a pleasant enough recital; we were told that the songs were favourites of Jenny Lind, "The Swedish Nightingale", but they suffered from a succession of conventional poetic texts with little variety or "meat", despite ranging through several countries.
It may sound better on the radio repeat 14 July?
Mozart Symphony No 1 K16 & Clarinet Concerto in A Major K622
City of London Sinfonia/Michael Collins (conductor & basset-clarinet)
Plaisterers' Hall, No 1 London Wall, 29 June 2011
Moving on to Plaisterers' Hall (which claims to be the largest and one of the finest livery halls in London, but was not indicated on the map supplied by the festival), it turned out to be the basement of a new commercial block, on a busy roundabout opposite the Museum of London, remade with fine plasterwork decoration. All a bit soulless - used mainly for hire to prestigious clients for receptions etc. I guess that working plasterers are rarely to be seen there?
The hall is of the well-tried shoe-box shape with good acoustics, but a bit harsh, especially as Michael Collins, the new conductor of the City of London Sinfonia, resident orchestra at Opera Holland Park, did little to control dynamcs.
Mozart's little first Symphony was surely not meant for so large a band? Collins played the Clarinet Concerto with a modern basset-clarinet extension, which allowed a few lower notes which he'd seen in a manuscript in Switzerland; his teacher Thea King had encouraged him to go with this development, but he had not, it seems, been interested to explore authentic period instruments (q.v. Jane Booth's recent recording of the clarinet quintet etc). Likewise, the orchestra played modern instruments throughout.
Of two works by Australian composers, the audience was reassured by being told that they'd know the signature tune for LLoyds Bank which Elena Kats-Chernin composed! Her concerto Ornamental Air was busy and virtuosic, but seemed to rely too heavily on repetitive compound rhythms for its barring. More interesting was Brett Dean’s orchestrated Epitaph for Richard Hickox, founder-conductor of the CLS, specially arranged for this concert from a group of Epitaphs for string quartet.
Goldner String Quartet & William Barton (didjeridu)
Shostakovich String Quartet No 4
Goldsmiths' Hall, 6 July
Australia was well represented in the Goldners' concert before an enthusiastic audience at Goldsmith's Hall, formerly the venue for the London International String Quartet Competitions.
Shostakovich's String Quartet No 4 is one o his lesser known, extremely beautiful and only rising to climaxes in the final movement made a wonderful start to this concert; not quite equalled thereafter. People hearing it for the first time were enchanted, as they were by an energetic account of the Dvorak American to finish, with tempi on the fast side.
The Australian Nigel Westlake was billed as composer of film scores Babe & Miss Potter (the festival tries to reassure patrons nervous of new music) and his quartet (from long ago days when he was a freelance clarinettist) was rather synthetically exciting, but the working out of its ideas was too protracted.
William Barton's contributions on didgeridoo were disappointing; he told us that they involve complicated vocal techniques like overtone singing but the string quartet seemed to inhibit his spontaneity?
Tasmanian-born Peter Sculthorpe was represented by his Earth Cry, originally for for didgeridoo and orchestra, a melodious work that didn't represent him fully; more memorably, his Quartet No 18 reached London on Friday and was broadcast live on BBC R3 (Available for a week at BBC iPlayer).
PETER SCULTHORPE Portrait Concert
Jerwood Hall, 9 July 2011
The most enjoyable concert of our sampling of the C of L Festival has been one of American and Australian music by a new orchestra of Australian Londoners given at Jerwood Hall, one of the City's very best venues.
Named (perhaps awkwardly for publicity purposes) after a rare Australian bird, the group which debuted last night was welded into a real entity by its founder conductor Kelly Lovelady, one of two bright stars of the night. She led the music sensitively with good ensemble and a feeling that everyone was listening to each other.
Her rapport with her players and with soloist Emma Pearson (who has sung everything from Susanna and the Queen of the Night in Australia to Lulu in Wiesbaden) was a delight in Barber's homely narrative, "a lovely chunk of prose text by James Agee describing an evening from his childhood", nostalgic but unsentimental [Gramophone].
Sculthorpe was well represented by evocative music which was mostly slow, even sounding slow when Kelly Loveday was beating fast during his strangely titled Sonata, which had violins and double bass mimicking birdsong; no connection with classical sonata-form, which Peter Sculthorpe firmly eschews, as he explains in his conversation with Walter Verdehr in the new DVD reviewed below.
Peter Sculthorpe DVD & CD (Quartets Vol 2)
Sculthorpe, composer and graphic artist, unquestionably a leading composer from "down under", is the subject of a new portrait DVD from the Verdehr Trio in which he describes how his music grows from the vastness of the Australian landscape.
He strives to make it natural and positive in a world with so much hatred, which he fears must increase with population growth.
Alongside a full performance of Dreamtracks there are relaxed interviews, partly in Peter Sculthorpe's own home, which give a very full overview of this important composer and his long life in music since he began composing secretly when he was about seven and thereafter never stopped.
Sculthorpe's The String Quartets Vol 2 [Tall Poppies TP090] has a miscellany of works, played by the Goldner Quartet, several of which have later been arranged for orchestra - e.g. No 11 Jabiru Dreaming became Sonata No 2 (reviewed in the portrait concert above, with a picture of the jabiru bird), together with others which are separate named pieces.
Peter Grahame Woolf
The Goldner String Quartet with William Barton on the didjeridu at Goldsmiths Hall
Photo: Robert Piwko;