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Roxanna Panufnik, Dvořák and Schubert - and Andrew Poppy

Roxanna Panufnik: Cavatina and Moravian Dance (2007)

Dvořák: String Quartet in D minor, op.34 (1877)
Schubert: String Quartet in G, D887 (1826)


Wihan Quartet (Leoš Čepický – Jan Schulmeister – violins; Jiři Žigmund – viola; Aleš Kaspřik – cello)


Goldsmith’s Hall, Foster Lane, London – 4 November 2009


The Wihan Quartet recently won its spurs in the classical repertoire with their recording of the late Beethoven Quartets (Nimbus Alliance – NI 6100) so tonight I was looking forward more to their performance of music by their compatriot and a young British composer.


Goldsmith’s Hall is a very beautiful venue for chamber music, in a large room within the building, away from traffic and everyday noise - a banqueting room (I suppose) with a high ceiling, lots of wood and carpets and room for, possibly, 150/200 people. Thus, everything is set for wonderful listening.


Roxanna Panufnik has made a real name for herself, writing music for all genres and receiving commissions, performances and recordings. Her Cavatina and Moravian Dance is little more than a bon bon, but quite a nice one. There isn’t much to it, a slow and lyrical Cavatina, as you’d expect, and a quirky Dance. Here Panufnik has some fun with her material and how the players interact. Perhaps it slightly overstays its welcome, there really isn’t sufficient material to justify the, approximately, ten minutes playing time. It was well played by the Wihans, who gave the première two years ago. I can understand the group wishing to play this work, for it is a delightful piece of light music and it was intended to relax the audience and prepare them for the slightly more serious Dvořák which followed.


Dvořák’s 9th String Quartet is dedicated to Brahms, and the work is infused with native Czech music. The outer movements are full bloodied allegros, the second a polka and the third a very deeply serious Adagio. The Wihans played this work very well indeed. They understood the nature of the music, brought out the folklike inflection of the music, phrased the lyrical music superbly, but… I am sorry to have to say it but there is a but.


Despite the undeniably fine playing, I never really felt that the music took off. There was insufficient heft in the allegro movements to make their full effect. At the end of the Dvořák there’s a change in pace and the music rushes to its conclusion. It would have been nice to hear some urgency to the performance, some weight, anything to add to the sense of falling over oneself to get to the end. And that was the problem throughout. There was no sense of danger, everything was, for me, too well rehearsed, too thoughtout without any margin left for that spark which might happen on the night.


Very beautiful, yes, but on this occasion the music making was hampered by caution. . As we critics are not always allowed either a simple or an easy life I had to forego the second half of the Wihan show in order to attend an Andrew Poppy event at King’s Place...

Andrew Poppy Sustaining Ensemble

Genevieve Wilkins (marimba, vibraphone, glockenspiel, percussion), Andrew Poppy (piano, electric keyboard, bass guitar, voice),
Jez Wiles (vibraphone, glockenspiel, percussion), Kate Halsall (piano, electric keyboard))


King’s Place, London – 4 November 2009


I’ve known Poppy’s music for something liike 25 years. Although he hasn’t been in the spotlight, he’s continued working and producing new music, as well as CDs, and built a very impressive body of work.


Although many might think of Poppy as a minimalist, his work is very different from the composers usually associated with that style. With a new band, which will repeat this show in both Oxford and Birmingham, he unveiled pieces from his album …and the shuffle of things. It was a sheer joy to hear this music, so simple, in one respect, but yet so complicated in another. Simple in that the four players seemed occupied with the barest number of notes, and the quietest of delivery, yet complicated because of the intricate patterns they wove round one another.


The show was hypnotic, mesmerising and utterly compelling; that it kept us all in thrall is testament to the quality and power of this composer’s work.  I hope that Poppy will be able to obtain the finance necessary to be able to work with this new group and continue on his personal road of discovery. I shall be eagerly waiting for his next appearance.


Bob Briggs


Bob Briggs