S&H Concert Review

A Quiet Evening Richard Benjafield and Chris Brannick (percussion) The Warehouse 26 October 00

Not entirely ironical; many items in this immensely enjoyable evening at The Warehouse concentrated on the delicate timbral palettes available from a vast array of percussion instruments, which I was assured could be transported in two large vans, merely. Getting away from the conventional and deadening straight rows format, the audience was dispersed around the walls in two curved blocks of seats, nearly surrounding the central area which was filled with an exotic collection of things to finger, hit or bang. The two friends & colleagues did an informal double act, introducing each other and the music in a humorously relaxed manner.

The greater emphasis was upon untuned instruments, so we were not preoccupied in trying to fathom why particular notes had been chosen; no need to have studied contemporary composition in a University music department to appreciate this recital.

Rogosanti by James Wood did, admittedly, seem to have a complex structure and need a lot of careful counting. Initiated by speech rhythms, it held attention for its considerable length (we had been promised that a long menu was one of short pieces). Another piece was entirely spoken, a deadpan ping-pong of phrases from 'the animated chameleon of composition', one Leo T.R. de Fantasie, whose name is not yet to be found in New Grove; maybe it will figure in the new edition soon to be with us? It kept returning to the pertinently provocative question 'don't you wish you played a piccolo?'.

John Woolrich's unassertive 5-minute Wisp (in memory of Franco Donatoni, who had died very recently) was the piece I would particularly want to hear again, elusive, subtle & quietly expressive. Peter Wiegold's Brouhaha (world premiere in duo version) was something else indeed, a wild mixture of non-verbal vocal gestures and noises (the sort of thing small children indulge in when unobserved) and wild assaults upon the battery of instruments, with much running about. It brought us to the interval in riotous levity.

John Jordan's 2+4 into 5 was played kneeling on the floor before African xylophones-with-gourds (we were not given the proper names of the numerous instruments). There was a collage by Chris Brannick of songs by Prince, a genius - 'difficult to say why without sounding like a teenager or a rock bore', and a luscious 'Mantovani' piece Haiku Requiem (Buddy Holly Lives) by Peter McGarr, a steel pan specialist, this sensuous piece involving that fascinating and sophisticated instrument together with whistling, sounds of the sea, tremolos on the vibraphone, a musical saw, and bowing various metal objects, a required skill for today's percussionists. Asi el Acero by Javier Alvarez was a steel-pan solo, which required precise timing against an unyielding taped accompaniment. Delightful.

Two classics completed the evening. Nagoya Marimbas used Steve Reich's familiar transformation technique, and Psappha by Xenakis received its first performance ever by two percussionists simultaneously, apparently playing from identical scores in unison - think of duo pianists playing the Hammerklavier Sonata both at the same time & you'll get the idea! This Psappha was loud, but well contained in the non-reverberant Warehouse concert room, and not so hurtful to the ears as some high woodwind earlier in the series.

Yes, modern music can be fun without descending to minimal simplicity.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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