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Negativity - disappointments at South Bank Centre and Blackheath Halls (PGW)
Purcell Room, March 19 & Blackheath Sundays, 7 April 2002

The Editor has urged contributors not to shirk their responsibilities. He 'does not believe in stifling opinion' and has requested from me a review of a recent concert in James Lisney's series at the Purcell Room, 'no matter how short, nor how negative'. It had provided neither pleasure nor satisfaction, Mr Lisney's playing of Mozart and Schubert was less than engrossing, and my reaction is in accord with the only other published review I saw. I had previously been less than totally captivated by another of the Schubertreise concerts, in which Emma Kirkby sung songs by Amy Beach. I found them unsuitable for this favourite early music specialist's voice and have failed also to be able to enthuse about Beach or Kirkby in their CD of the same repertoire released soon afterwards (BIS CD 1245). My usual practice in those circumstances is to preserve a diplomatic silence, and hope that another reviewer might take over; horses for courses. When space is at a premium, 'spiking' is of course usual, but this does not apply to websites and some artists are, understandably, hungry for reviews from which, hopefully, useful quotes may be gleaned.

I am prompted by another disappointment to respond to the Editor's request after all. I have regularly championed South East London's Blackheath Halls, the profile of which has been raised by a generally admirable Sunday Morning series, which attracts large audiences at prices up to 15. Last Sunday's however really didn't warrant the effort of getting up and out on a fine spring day, and back indoors to take a chance with unknown musicians; all those factors conspired to reduce the attendance drastically. Paul Reeves, ex-Guildhall and with Glyndebourne's The Last Supper in his CV, seemed unready for recital, his bass voice weak in the lower register, unmodulated for the Recital Room, intonation unreliable and insufficient finesse for Mozart or the Serious Songs of Brahms; bad choices for openers. Things began to improve for Tchaikovsky, but plummeted in a strident, unseductive Don Juan's Serenade, raucous singing capped by the insensitive accompanying of Yuval Zorn, an Israeli graduate in piano and conducting, who seemed not to have studied the hall's acoustic or to have spent time becoming familiar with the Blackheath Bösendorfer.

Would readers prefer to be spared negative reviews, or are they wanted to keep a balance?

Peter Grahame Woolf


The next Schubertreise concert is Saturday 11 May with The Coull Quartet & James Lisney in Schubert's Sonata D 575 and the two Dvorak Piano Quintets.
Next weekend at Blackheath, Fiona MacNaught and Daniel Tong will be giving the complete Beethoven sonatas for violin and piano. Details of Blackheath Sundays are at

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