S&H Lunchtime Concert Review
Davidson; Brahms; Schoenberg/Webern. The Bennelong
Ensemble at St James's Church, Piccadilly. 23 October 00.
London has an active lunch-time concert calendar, often featuring excellent younger musicians, though not always in the most acoustically propitious venues. Seen&Heard reported enthusiastically in February 2000 a City church about the pianist Florian Uhlig, who will be giving a Wigmore Hall recital on 8 November (firstname.lastname@example.org).
An interesting programme drew us to St James's Church, Piccadilly to hear The Bennelong Ensemble of young Australians living in London and dedicated to promoting contemporary Australian composers abroad. They had prepared three contrasted works well, but did not know the acoustics of this visually splendid church opposite the Royal Academy. Its high barrel-vaulted roof played havoc with the faster music of Strata for soprano sax, bass clarinet and piano quartet by bassist Robert Davison, who had studied with Tery Riley and teaches at Queensland University. Originally scored for an ensemble with bass and harp, it was recast, not entirely successfully, with the harp replaced by piano (Alan Hicks), whose pedalling throughout the concerts did not take sufficient account of the reverberation and echoes. Typically, in like situations, slow music came off best, but the piece as a whole was pleasing enough to look out for something else by this composer. Between two complex ensemble works, the two Brahms songs Op. 91 with viola, as given to great effect by mezzo Christina Wilson and Morgan Goff, were balm indeed.
Opportunities to hear Webern's reduction for five instruments of Schoenberg's notoriously testing First Chamber Symphony are uncommon, and it was a brave choice to end the programme. The piano has to serve for many of the missing parts, and five for fifteen makes for strenuous work all round. Inevitably a great deal of detail was swallowed up in the hurly-burly, to such extent that some of the players had difficulty hearing each other; greater clarity might have been achieved with a conductor to keep up the mainly brisk tempo and take responsibility for balance.
Peter Grahame Woolf
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