S&H Concert Review

BARTOK Rumanian Dances; Divertimento John REEMAN Passion Robert FRIPP arr. Andrew KEELING Red Nicola LeFANU Catena Opus 20/Scott Stroman 5 January 2001 South Bank Centre, London

Getting in before the PLG's regular January slot at the Purcell Room, which regularly opens the season, Opus 20 greeted the New Year with a programme of British novelties framed by popular Bartok. Only a very small audience attended this showcase for recent British music, and it had something of the character of a musical party for family and friends - no information was provided about the composers, presumably on the assumption that we all knew them well enough.

The four pieces of Reeman's 'cycle' (1993-99) have been brought together for the first time; it was a mistake. Scott Stroman told us that Keeling and Opus 20 'had grown together'. He warned us that Passion was a long work - "but worth it" - seeking to pre-empt criticism that at 45 minutes this deliberate, schematic and, mainly slow and portentous, tonal music over-weighted what became a 2½ hour concert. There seemed to have been no obvious development during the long years of its creation and the pieces would better be given one at a time. Red is destined for a CD of Keeling's arrangements of Fripp & King Crimson; I guess it must have sounded better originally on electric guitars and drums! LeFanu's work was the most interesting. It tested the young players' intonation and at first hearing the music seemed to slither around without a clear focus for its material; its snatches of melody heavily chromatic, with microtonal inflections, 'layers of music constantly re-shaping themselves'.

The surprise (perhaps it shouldn't have been?) was that it was Bartok who revived us at the end and stole the evening. Played by a dozen strings, Opus 20's bright, vivid and idiomatic performances bounced back from the bare wooden walls of the Purcell Room, with leading violinist Christopher George giving Eastern European inflections to the folk and folkish melodies, and Stroman encouraging his young players to strong accents and shapely rubato. The Rumanian Dances made an invigorating opener, and six decades on the Divertimento - composed just before the composer's enforced emigration in 1939 - once again reminded us of its undiminished power (especially in the screwing up of harmonic tension in the slow movement) and that the title is a misnomer for a string symphony as good as any.

Both Reeman and Keeling are featured in the CD DGM 9908. This CD was welcomed after a Warehouse concert reviewed by S&H in the first BMIC Cutting Edge series a year ago. Their forthcoming CD will include the Hämeeniemi violin concerto enjoyed at that concert.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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