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S & H Concert Review

Classic Rhythm – Flute, Piano and Percussion ensemble, Purcell Room, 15th April 2002 (CN).



Glinka: Russlan and Ludmilla
Rossini: William Tell overture
Beethoven: ‘Adagio’ from Pathetique Sonata
Trad. Folk Song: The Emerald Isle
Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker Suite (excerpts)
Sutcliffe: Jazz Suite
McNeff: Running Scared
Monti: Czardas
Bernstein: West Side Story

I must admit that my reasons for attending this concert stem purely from a cynical curiosity. I was expecting the group to be made up of young musicians hoping to make a go in the profession by means of an unusual twist on some ‘lollipop’ repertoire. It is undoubtedly not what musicians dream of doing but right now, anything is worth a try.

I was surprised, then, when instead I was presented with three well-established musicians – Helen O’Connell (flute), Adrian Sutcliffe (piano) and Chris Brannick (percussion) -who have no need of novelty (they are the only ensemble of this combination in the UK ) to further their careers.

My other expectation of the evening was one of theatre - comical asides, an endless array of percussion gags. Somewhat snobbishly, I had assumed that such a group would not really take themselves seriously. I was wrong. The group sailed through Russlan and Ludmilla, and William Tell perfectly straight faced and with great gusto. And actually, yes, they came off well, but I was left feeling that I hadn’t really come to listen to good arrangements but to see how the group would use them to achieve something different.

I do not want to detract, however, from the sense of enjoyment that honestly pervaded this concert or the overall standard of musicianship; as individual musicians they were all remarkable but as an ensemble they were something quite different: natural. Together, they played with instinctive precision: they were so well-attuned to each other’s playing that the music didn’t just come across as well rehearsed but as both spontaneous and intimate.

The second half featured the Stephen McNeff – who was present at the concert. This is a great piece which really used the group to their full potential and it will be a shame if its only outings are at Classic Rhythm’s concerts. However, here too came the highlight of the concert: an unforgettable rendition of Monti’s Czardas on Xylophone. Brannick emerged as the comedian and whilst Sutcliffe probably did not enjoy being his stooge, he played his part gracefully (although he could not resist the old Victor Borge trick of starting with his music the wrong way up!). The result had the audience in fits of laughter and it was a shame that other pieces did not receive some of this treatment.

Had they been the young hopefuls I expected, I would have questioned their staying power and what they thought they would achieve through an essentially limited group. As it was, this concert marked the 10th anniversary of the group and in terms of achievement, although there was nothing new or radical or trailblazing, this was a fine evening of entertainment.

Christa Norton

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