For a more complete history of PDCA events and concerts, go to HISTORY
Review of concert by the
Monington Ensemble, Saturday, 8th March, 2003, Portsmouth Grammar
[The] annual PDCA concert for the Portsmouth Music Club was given by the Monington Ensemble (Robert Blanken - clarinet, Kirstie Robertson - violin, Sue Anne Emerson - cello and Karen Kingsley - piano).
They started their programme with Milhaud's Suite for violin, clarinet and piano - from the Ouverture with its spiky rhythms through the Divertissement of more reflective and conversational ideas to Jeu, a kind of driving 'sleigh bells' theme (minus the bells) and finally Introduction et Final with dramatic piano chords and dance-like motifs subsiding to a quiet ending, this demanding work from a less well known member of Les Six was delivered with style and panache by the three players.
Geoffrey Dale's Spellbound - A Mantra for clarinet, violin and cello formed of motif's based around the composers initials GCD in a kind of ABA structure with a turbulent middle section, this piece, receiving its first performance, demanded precise rhythmic control by the ensemble.
This was followed by David Stoll's Portia from The Shakespeare Suite for violin and piano. Having met David Stoll in his role as adjudicator of the recent Portsmouth Music Festival Composition classes, it was interesting to listen to this piece which is in a pleasing diatonic style with romantic sweeping melodic lines, well portrayed with some lovely light touches, by both players.
Karen Kingsley then played the solo piano piece Brown Studies by David Penri-Evans. Composed twenty years ago for a friend (Curtis Brown), the five short movements reflect some aspects of the subject's personality. The music swings in mood from reflective to quirky to angry to unpredictable to tender, and the poignant ending held the audience in a prolonged silence before delivering Karen's well-deserved applause.
Peter Thompson's Ballet for clarinet, cello and piano was first performed at the Petersfield Festival. This challenging piece received an assured performance from the Moninton Ensemble. The Allegro began with a piano and cello introduction and then a clarinet solo full of rhythmic interest. The Moderato flessibile followed in a more reflective mood, exploring in particular the rich resonance of the lower cello register. The Andante featured an intense middle section with repeated notes and a quiet ending. The concluding Presto with its exacting rhythmic material, received due precision and energy from the ensemble, and the abrupt ending was particularly effective.
The opening Adagio of Philip Drew's Two Ritual Dances featured a wistful clarinet solo and pizzicato violin, while the busy Allegro had a humorous theme with playful rhythmic content in which the material is distributed between the players in a distancing technique called phasing before reuniting in a jolly final sequence which brought smiles to the players and the audience alike.
Daniel Knott's Romance for clarinet and piano began with a characteristically tuneful solo for the clarinet and sweeping piano accompaniment before the piano took the theme, leading to a tense middle section and a restrained ending, this piece allowed the performers to display their excellent mutual understanding
Paul Hindemith's Quartett (1938) was a fitting end to this fine recital. Hindemith's terse harmonic language and angular melodic lines were sympathetically addressed from the opening Massig bewegt with its distinctive piano octaves before the other players join in turn as the material is developed in a conversational style, through Sehr Langsam featuring quietly held notes, percussive insertions by the piano and an intense solo passage for the cello, to Massig bewegt-Lebhaft-Ruhig bewegt-Sehr Lebhaft with pianistic effects reminiscent of Rachmaninov, alternating brisk and slower passages, before turbulent piano figures lead into a final flourish for all the players.
PDCA is indeed fortunate that such sympathetic musicians are willing to prepare and perform their works, the only blemish being the tuning of the piano, which does seem to be an ongoing difficulty at this venue.
Review of Wyndcliffe Voices Concert, Alverstoke, 23rd November 2002
23rd November 2002 saw a good turn out at St Mary's Church, Alverstoke for the concert by Wyndcliffe Voices. The evening was designed as a celebration of the English choral tradition-although one Welshman did manage to sneak into the programme. The concert opened with the triumphant sound of Gerald Finzi's God is gone up. Under the able directorship of Philip Drew the choir had a well-balanced sound, and were confidently supported all evening by Philip Bailey on the organ. After the Finzi Philip Drew took over the organ bench and played Kenneth Leighton's Fanfare, a piece built up of parallel chords and interesting twists in the melodic line.
Mr Drew stayed at the organ while Mr Bailey conducted Michael Dawney's Christmas Morn. A gentle, lilting carol that worked well for the choir. The two Philips swapped places again for Herbert Howells' Magnificat from Collegium Regale. A difficult piece deftly performed. The women produced a beautifully clear tone at the opening and the Gloria was wonderful. Oh to write such music.
Mr Drew returned to the organ to play his own Communion, No 2 of Two Meditations on the Blessed Sacrament. This meditative piece transports the listener to another plain. It is reminiscent of Messiaen, even down to the birdsong.
Before the interval the choir put together a sort of missa brevis (minus the credo). This was a practice common in medieval times. The pieces worked well together, even though they were all quite different. Edmund Rubbra's Kyrie (from Communion Service in A) has lots of fifths and shifts in tonal centre. David A'Bear's Gloria in excelsis Deo has a jubilant fanfare quality. The middle section with unaccompanied soloists worked well as a contrast. David Penri-Evans' minimalist Holy is the Lord Almighty for unaccompanied double choir gradually emerges out of simple repeated notes. Its build to the final section is particularly effective. Alun Grafton's unaccompanied Agnus Dei was quite chromatic at times. Its polyphonic build up brought the set to a satisfying conclusion.
After a wine break Wyndcliffe Voices continued with the first performances of two pieces, both using Gregorian chant. Pauline Skinner's psalm is for women's voices and mainly unison but every so often delicately divides. It has a cool flow to it. Leo Boucher's Audi benigne conditor starts off with the men singing plainsong and blossoms into four-part. There are some quite tricky chromatic sections, which the choir handled well. William Walton's Drop, drop, slow tears is anguish through chromaticism. The fp at the end was most effective.
Philip Bailey gave the first performance Cedric Peachey's Adagio lamentoso-in memoriam September 11th 2001 for organ. The piece is a little like Ives with some heavy ideas. It carefully contrasts some dark, dense textures with lighter, uplifting moments. The work ends with hope - a major chord. This was followed by our dear friend Danny Knott's setting of Et incarnatus est which is wonderfully warm.
Phillip Pennington Harris' Ave verum corpus was a little different, in that the choir were scattered around the edge of the church. This gave a real sense of space and time. The choir repeated the same phrases, creating a sonic backdrop for the three soloists at the front of the church adding material over the top. Benjamin Britten's Prelude and Fugue on a theme of Vittoria, very well played by Philip Bailey, proved an excellent contrast to the Pennington Harris. The prelude is loud and bombastic while the fugue is thinner and lighter.
The choir ended with a confident and well-controlled performance of John Ireland's Greater Love. The evening had indeed been a true celebration of the English Choral Tradition, showing it is still alive and well, both in composition and performance. Wyndcliffe Voices and Philips Drew and Bailey are to be congratulated on preparing such a wide range of twentieth century repertoire to such a high standard of performance.
Review of COMA South event, New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth, 13th July 2002
The day of rehearsals, workshops and performances at the New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth, turned out to be interesting, enjoyable and generally good fun. The COMA South ensemble for the day consisted of two accordions, violin, cello, double bass and keyboard, which resulted in a range of interesting timbres. The day was enthusiastically led by Martin Read.
In the workshop performance there were only three new pieces. Malcolm Atkins Antiphonal used a minimum number of staves and as its name suggests passed ideas from side to side. This was followed by Philip Drews Jacta illia est which is organised into six section the order of which is decided by the throwing of dice. The piece is rhythmically complex and this created some problems in performance. Alun Graftons piece Praeludium 4 is based on a note row and ostinati. Written out in a more traditional way the piece still presented challenges for the performers. The workshop was rounded off with a performance of Michael Nymans First Waltz in D. This is a party piece for the ensemble and example of what works best for a flexible ensemble of this kind.
The afternoon proved to be a good class in writing for flexible ensemble. Each of the pieces had strengths, but each had problems that were brought to light by the reality of the ensemble in rehearsal. Martin extended an invitation to any composer who would like to attend rehearsals of the ensemble and send in scores. They are more than happy to try things out.
The day was brought to a close with a performance of Martin Reads one-act opera dance to the end of time. An excellent blend of the two soloist, ensemble, chorus and dancers, combining material at times jazzy, traditional and contemporary. The libretto combined philosophical concepts of time, flashbacks and the topical idea of delayed trains.
Catherine Nicholson, flute and Karen Kingsley, piano in Concert
23rd February, 2002 - Portsmouth Grammar School
[This] Portsmouth District Composers' Alliance concert was given by flautist Catherine Nicholson and pianist Karen Kingsley, at the Michael Nott Rotunda at Portsmouth Grammar School, and included six works by PDCA members, as well as works by Schoenberg, Robert Muczynski, Dominic Floyd and Ruth Cox. The concert was well attended, for members of Portsmouth Music Society were also present.
The concert began with Geoffrey Dale's Sonata. This work dates from the early 1960's when he much influenced by Stravinsky and Hindemith, especially their neoclassical style. Certainly the texture of the opening movement was very clean and spare, without any Romantic connotations, and reminded the reviewer of Stravinsky's Violin Concerto and Hindemith's Kammermusik, especially with the patchwork-like alternations of themes and textures. The slow movement began in Bach-like calm, but soon began to incorporate subtle alterations of sonority, enhanced by the Tippetian "wrong-notes", that invaded the dreaming music. The last movement returns to the driving motion of the opening, but with an edge that came close to Shostakovich in places.
The Six Little Piano Pieces, Op.19 by Schoenberg were written in 1911, and represent a distillation of the Expressionist style he was exploring at the time. Each tiny movement lasts only about a minute and every one conveys a different emotion, sometimes wistful, sometimes menacing; and in the last, written after attending Mahler's funeral, distance and loneliness. Karen Kingsley caught the atmosphere of these evanescent works beautifully.
The programme note tells us that Anthony Turner's Upon a fallen leaf I wrote was inspired both by watching the red leaves of a maple tree fall to the ground in Autumn and by Schoenberg's Sechs Kleine Klavierstücke. The six very short pieces, which could be described as snapshots in sound, have a simplicity of style and floating quality appropriate to the title. Each piece has a finely balanced three section arch structure except the fourth, the fastest, which presents a toccata - like piano part with right hand figuration and a descending bass motive which is suddenly cut short by a flute flourish. Apart from the use of the interval of a third for the piano ostinato of the third piece and the short, fragmentary nature of all the pieces there is no obvious link to the Schoenberg, however. The pervading atmosphere of the work is one of serenity and graceful elegance. (Philip Drew)
Fourth in the concert came Michael Downey's Claustrophobia, for flute solo. This short work is taken from the music written for a student film, Confinement, depicting the emotional and mental states of a prisoner in a cell. The music breathed coldness and futility, right for the scene it was meant to accompany, and the stark downward movements at its end indicated resignation and despair. Certainly it put the reviewer in mind of some forgotten dungeon.
Karen joined Catherine again for Philip A'Bear's Fantaisie, a single-movement work with strong programmatic overtones, of unrequited love and unfulfilled life. This work was cast in the Romantic mould, tonal, with rich harmony and complex writing, shaped into long paragraphs with large, dramatic gestures. Often this very richness threatened to burst the form of the work, and in lesser hands could easily have sounded melodramatic. Originally it was composed for piano solo, but I wonder if this piece would suit even fuller arrangement than flute and piano.
By contrast, came the intense, almost Crumb-like sounds conjured by Philip Drew in his Refractions and Diffusions. This work calls for flute glissandi, piano resonance, and the mightily difficult act of striking and scraping the piano's strings directly to create a haunting sound that is not easily forgotten. However, none of these avant-garde effects were used lightly, each individually colouring the eight variations based on the plainchant O Sapienta. The work is a study of light passing through the pendants of a chandelier as they sway and rotate, how it reflects and refracts into tiny points of colour that skim and swing across the walls. Catherine and Karen displayed eminent virtuosity in their performance of these variations, fully conveying the night-music sound-world, shot through with reminiscences of the plainchant, organ sounds, and Messaien stained-glass chords. Certainly, Refractions and Diffusions will repay repeated listening.
After the interval, Karen and Catherine resumed with a performance of Flute Song by Daniel Knott. This tuneful piece combined flute and piano with no pretensions to complexity, and aptly acted as a foil to the midnight sounds of the work that preceded it. After rising to a brief climax, this short movement ended on ascending figures and a long cadence.
Following on came the Sonata by Ruth Cox and is dedicated to Karen and Catherine, both having been instrument teachers to Ruth in the past. This three-movement work displayed all the hallmarks of a composer confident in technique and style, and made several nods in the direction of French neoclassical music, especially putting the reviewer in mind of Jean Françaix. The opening movement has a simple formal outline, with many recurrences of the main theme, and made no attempt at dramatic gesture. After a calm and untroubled slow movement, the finale bounced along in compound time, exploiting fourths and fifths, sharing the themes and episodes between flute and piano.
Next, came a work for solo piano, Out of the deep I will call upon thee by Dominic Floyd. The opening repeating piano chordal texture conveyed a dark and stormy sea, which soon blew itself into a mass of crashing waves, with rolling piano arpeggios. Suddenly we are returned to the initial brooding sonority, which again becomes a towering mass of piano sound, which is cut off abruptly, leading to a quiet, mournful passage that ends the work. The unusual form and abrupt changes of motion that informed this mysterious and strongly representational work suggests that there is a story behind the notes, which left the reviewer wondering.
The concert ended with Robert Muczynski's Sonata Op.14. This work was new to the reviewer, but accords well with other works by the same composer, typically pungent and rhythmical, but within a neo-romantic style. This work is challenging for both players, who are kept busy throughout the outer movements and the Scherzo, which is placed second, yet it is without dazzle or showy writing. The slow movement is, by contrast, almost motionless, and to the reviewer, felt that the music was robbed of the momentum that had been built up in the first two movements. It came as a welcome relief when the driving energy returned in the final movement, and concluded the concert with a decisive and powerful coda.
Throughout, Karen and Catherine gave thoughtful and committed performances, and left the impression of having given the new works as much preparation and attention as the classics. As with all new works performed, it is a difficult task to assess them on a single hearing, and it is hoped that we shall hear them all again in the near future.
Review of the Farr Ensemble in Concert at the BMIC, London, 13th November, 2001
[This] Portsmouth District Composers' Alliance concert was given by the Farr Ensemble (Alison Farr - piano, Thomas Rodda - clarinet, Clare Duckworth - violin and Bryony Rump - cello) at the British Music Information Centre, London. The programme consisted of music by six Alliance members and two contemporary classics.
The evening began with Judith Bailey's Microminiature. This is an amazingly compressed piano trio that explores well-characterised material and contrasting textures ranging from the spareness of the opening to the lush flowering of the slow "movement" to a scherzo-like finale - all in under three minutes!
Meandering is the second movement of Martin Read's The Numbers Game, which he describes as "three imaginary journeys through a magic square." Thomas Rodda gave a beautifully poised performance of this sinuous musical line that dispelled all thoughts of the peculiar numerical properties of magic squares and left one wishing to hear more.
Trio for clarinet, piano and cello by Andrew McBirnie begins with bold, imperious gestures and despite the setting up of tensions, always seems to be seeking lyrical expression which is frequently curtailed. The second, faster section, has agitated music which also moves towards the lyrical. This cheekily turns into a jazz pastiche, which is great fun, especially on first hearing, before merging back into the imposing opening material. The writing for the instruments is always idiomatic and the composer's control and transformation of his material is assured whilst feeling spontaneous.
in camera 9 by Alun D. Grafton is a comparatively lengthy trio for clarinet, violin and cello. It inhabits a soundworld that is always referring back to tonality whilst constantly pushing out into more adventurous regions. This gives the piece an interesting ebb and flow, which although never predictable, begins to assume a certain inevitability. I am not sure whether I most liked the spare, winding duets or the Copland-esque feeling to some of the harmonies but the members of the Farr Ensemble gave this a convincing performance.
this?, Catseyes and Under the Water were originally conceived as songs by Jo Treasure but have been arranged very successfully for clarinet, violin, cello and piano. this? communicates a great sense of nostalgia and, with or without the words, is a fitting setting of the composer's own words, "Will I remember this?/Will I know you are there?..." Catseyes creates a wonderful feeling of travel, of weaving around, in and out, and inhabits a glowing harmonic soundscape. The third transcription, Under the Water, is built on an ostinato and offers an excellent sound-picture of the muted voices one hears under water. Although I have not heard all the originals, I suspect that these songs lost nothing and gained much in the transcription process.
After the interval, we heard David Penri-Evan's Rain Journal. This piano trio in six brief movements was inspired by a poem by Lee Harwood and "a love remembered". The introspective first movement is almost hypnotic in its effect with a spread piano chord and melodic fragments over. The second movement has the violin and cello pairing in octaves. The rhythmic, perpetuum mobile third movement is Bartok-like in effect and again uses some doubling. The slow fourth movement gives the violin and cello lyrical writing against translucent piano whilst the fifth movement is an energetic piece, again pairing the violin and cello, this time leading back to a reprise of the hypnotic soundworld of the opening in the final movement.
Darius Milhaud's Trio for violin, clarinet and piano opens with a jaunty D major Ouverture with much imitation and the harmonic twists one expects from this composer. The second movement, Divertissement, plays at pairing the instruments so we get to hear violin and clarinet, clarinet and piano, violin and piano before all three re-combine. Jeu is, of course, a scherzo-like movement which is great fun, but displays the composer's keen ear for instrumental colour. The Introduction et Final has great gravitas before turning to genial, often tongue-in-cheek music.
The Farr Ensemble ended the evening with a stunning performance of a 20th Century classic, Contrasts by Bela Bartok, for clarinet, violin and piano. Composed as long ago as 1938 for Benny Goodman, this is quintessential Bartok, immediately accessible and often folk-inspired but always with rhythmic drive, and leading the listener into new harmonic worlds. The writing for the violin and piano is demanding and not surprisingly, the clarinet part frequently errs into the virtuoso realm, but Thomas Rodda, Alison Farr and Clare Duckworth displayed consummate ease and great style in this exciting finale to an excellent evening's music.
Phillip Pennington Harris
Review of Organ Recital by Nigel Stark, 30th June, St Marys Church, Portsea
Nigel Stark, Director of Music at St Marys opened his recital with Bachs Prelude and Fugue in c, BWV 546, an excellent opener that set the tone for the programme. As one member of the audience commented at least the first piece is real music. While some contemporary music can be difficult to take, this turned out to be an unfair remark as the rest of the programme turned out to be not only real music, but also good music expertly played.
The first of the Portsmouth pieces was Alun Graftons Chorale Prelude in which a light tune emerges out of a deep rumble. This was followed by the first performance of Phillip Pennington Harris Fantasia: Pange lingua, which opens with a Messiaenic flourish. The Passiontide hymn Sing my tongue the glorious battle, on which it is based, is discernable most of the time, albeit at a subconscious level at some times. Many of us are familiar with Philip Drews cello and piano piece based on the same plainsong and it was interesting to note the very different treatment of the tune. It was also interesting to note that most of the evenings composers are organists. In the Fantasia it is clear that Phillip Pennington Harris knows exactly what the instrument can do and exploits its capabilities.
The next piece up
was Paul Pilotts Chorale Prelude on Maccabeus.
A soft, almost lyrical opening gradually develops. The piece is
based on the chorus of Maccabeus and this material is used in
various guises, such as inversion and retrogrades, with the tune
forming a sort of ground in different registers and the other
material threading around it. The piece is dedicated to the
memory of Andrew Newberry and was given its first performance
last February. The first half ended with Stanfords Fantasia
and Toccata. The inclusion of this work and the Bach
and Widor shows the range of repertoire of both Nigel Stark and
the organ and gave a well-balanced programme. The Victorian
splendour of this piece matched that of the church, at times
grand and impressive and at others trite
After a short interval the concert resumed with the first performance of Daniel Knotts Elegiette; a short, personal elegy that opens with gentle counterpoint and blossoms into a warm sense of hope. Geoffrey Dales Toccata is one of the composers earliest pieces, written when he was a boy of 18, some 52 years ago, yet tonight received its first performance. A simple, lively piece, it proved to be a good contrast to Dannys piece. This was followed by another first performance, that of Michael Dawneys Hymn Fantasia and Fugue. The main hymn tune used is "God moves in a mysterious way", which seemed apt for the piece. Not only has Michael used this tune, but also has incorporated snippets from several other hymns, often humorously, reminiscent of Charles Ives it was fun just to play Name that Tune.
Drews Fanfare Toccata Orientis Partibus is
based on a tune that was known at one time as The Song of the
Ass. It can be found written in duple and triple time so Philip
in his piece plays around with twos and threes and fives. But
despite its rhythmic intricacies it has a jolly feel to it. The
programme was rounded off with Widors Allegro
Vivace from the Symphony No. 5;
the less often heard first movement. It is an almost banal set of
variations varying in tone from grand Wagner march to The
Nutcracker Suite. Nevertheless, it required great technical
mastery by Nigel Stark, which he has in abundance. He had given
us a wonderful evening of organ wizardry that we rounded off with
a deserved pint down at The Florist.
Review of the Portsmouth New Music Orchestra in concert
New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth, Tuesday 21st November 2000
This concert was presented in association with PDCA and expertly conducted by Steve Tanner. They were joined by Wykeham House School Senior Choir conducted by their Director of Music Richard Garrard-Abrahams.
The programme opened with The Theatre Represents a Garden: Night by John Woolrich which weaves various quotations from Mozart into an atmospheric, mainly slow musical collage. The effect is of discontinuous Mozart - melodious and euphonious with the occasional twist. Recognisable fragments of themes come and go with no obvious beginning or end. The orchestration is colourful and witty. The idea is good and the piece well crafted but it was a little too long.
Martin Read's The Mythical Bugler which followed, combines urbane wit with interesting musical ideas. The legend of the Mythical Bugler sounding 'return stores' to bring stolen items marching back to the Dockyard conjures up a picture like a sort of macabre March of the Kitchen Utensils (c.f. RVW). The piece starts mysteriously with motivic fragments sounding from the woodwind. Longer melodic lines emerge leading to a faster section with woodwind arabesques in a contrapuntal texture. The Horns play the part of the eponymous bugler and then a jazzy section leads to a 'winding down' to a quiet ending with Flute and strings. The use of the opening melody of William Mundy's anthem O Lord the maker and a couple of other quotations ties this piece firmly to Portsmouth's naval history.
Judith Bailey's Theme and Variations for wind ensemble was originally the final movement of a wind octet. It is quite short, the theme is only 11 bars and is treated to 7 variations with a coda. The theme can be described as 'perky' and the harmonic idiom is dissonant and in the full sections dense but sharply focused. The variations explore many varied sonorities and instrumental combinations. Whereas the first piece over-stayed its welcome, this sparkling little character left us wanting more.
One movement, the Scherzo, of Alun Grafton's Symphony No. 4 was played. An impressive work in the Prokofiev/Shostakovich tradition, the movement is in ternary form but its gentle dance-like character does not quite have the sardonic air or titanic energy often associated with the epithet Scherzo though some more violent material erupts in parts of the middle section. A satisfying piece nonetheless and I hope that before long, we can be treated to a performance of the entire symphony.
The first half ended with Millennium Song composed collaboratively by senior pupils of Wykeham House School. An entertaining piece in a light melodic idiom, it had been brilliantly arranged for the orchestra by Mick Davis. The school choir performed it with conviction and good enunciation.
We returned from a drink and a chat in the Interval to the dark world of Night Music by David Penri-Evans It is for strings only and is in 'arch' form with five sections. The brooding opening features semi-tonal clashes and clusters building up a note at a time. The second section has a fragmentary violin solo over a still background chord. The middle section is more flowing with an angular but long-phrased theme over a contrapuntal accompaniment. The first two sections are recapitulated in reverse order and the piece ends on an ambiguous chord which combines major and minor. This is a well written, evocative piece, chillingly tense and at times bleak. The strings of the PNMO gave it a highly charged and effective performance.
One of the features of the Bassoon is its ability to sound comical, Daniel Knott exploited this in his Solo Buffoon, a title which I hope did not offend the soloist, Patrick Milne. The light-hearted main theme has the nature of a folk dance. It is first presented by the Bassoon alone then pizzicato strings join in. The theme is developed and varied and the differing orchestral textures occasionally allow the soloist a rest! This is a beautifully constructed piece using a wealth of orchestral colour and with well-judged use of its melodic material. It is also amusing and very enjoyable and was positioned well in the programme.
Wykeham House School Senior Choir returned to the stage to perform John Julius Norwich's realization for narrator, voices and orchestra of the carol The Twelve Days of Christmas in contemporary context. This cleverly funny musical scena received a well projected performance. The twelve readers who shared the narrator's part all spoke out clearly, enabling the audience to enjoy every one of the jokes.
Malcolm Arnold's Sinfonietta No 3, Op 81 concluded the concert. This piece dates from 1964 and is firmly in the idiom of English neo-classicism. There are four short movements - a tense angular sonata form allegro in 3/4, a rhythmical scherzo in 6/8 with a jagged string theme, a lyrical gentle slow movement and a boisterous finale which grows out of a four note ostinato and suggests rondo form before coming to an abrupt conclusion.
This excellent concert shows that there is plenty of life in PNMO despite John Webber's departure. Congratulations to Steve Tanner and the orchestra for a delightful, stimulating and varied evening. The involvement of the school choir brought many new people into the audience. Let us hope that they were inspired to return and even try other contemporary music events. If they were not so inspired, it will not have been the fault of the PNMO neither their performance nor the programming. After the concert came the opportunity to return to the bar. We drank the health of New Music in Portsmouth - "Here's to the next concert!"
A Century of
Concert by Jane Sherriff, soprano and Christopher Seed, piano
Milner Hall, Winchester, 3rd November 2000
As you entered the city of Winchester fireworks flashed overhead giving a foretaste of what was to come vocally in this concert. The choice of pieces was very well made as a fitting end to the twentieth century, featuring very British music from the century and poetry from the whole millennium.
Jane Sherriff has a wonderfully pure tone and immaculate control. Her bright, clear voice lent itself well to the three Peter Warlock songs, The Lover's Maze, And wilt thou leave me thus? And Sigh on more, Ladies that opened the programme. Christopher Seed, who is not only an excellent accompanist but also a brilliant soloist in his own right, then played Saudade by Philip Cannon. The piece plays around with major and minor, a little bluesy and occasionally whole-tone.
The next group of songs began with Daniel Knott's Tell me not here. It has long vocal lines with a slightly busy piano part. The dark first section gives way to a more positive, major second section. Jane held the long last note absolutely beautifully. Vaughan Williams' From far, from eve and morning has a wonderful opening chord progression and a simple, straight vocal line. Andrew McBirnie's lyrical setting of Loveliest of Trees has a swaying feel to it and shows a good understanding of the text. Christopher then played another piano solo, this time two of Richard Rodney Bennett's Piano Studies. These have much denser harmonies than what had gone before. The first is rather Schoenbergian while the second, for right hand only, is reminiscent of Messiaen's birdcalls.
The first half ended with two of Paul Pilott's Love Lyrics, Nos. 10 & 11. No. 10 is decidedly whole-tone while No. 11 is a perpetual motion with the right hand of the piano and the voice following each other, gradually climbing higher and higher. These are difficult pieces to sing but Jane handled them with seeming ease.
After a little wine the small audience settled down to listen to a group of four "lightly serious" songs. Alun Grafton's bright and breezy Now Welcome Summer contains a number of interesting false relations, while Elizabeth Poston's Sweet Suffolk Owl is a very "English" sounding musical bird. Andrew McBirnie's Hares at Play has a hint of the blues and uses a very rhythmic setting of "dance and play", Jane obviously enjoying the syncopation. Bax's I heard a Piper Piping rounded off this group.
Christopher then treated us to another piano solo, Kaikhosru Sorabji's impressionistic In the Hothouse which has a quite soporific ending (especially after a couple of glasses of wine at the interval).
The last set of "seriously light" songs began with Michael Dawney's Catalogue (from his cycle The Cattery). This song is great fun and the mood of the music perfectly fits with the words. Martin Read's modal setting of On the steps of the Butter Cross clearly and easily tells the story, delightful and moving. Andrew McBirnie's Mulier se dicit is a lively setting with a touch of West Side Story. The concert ended with Alun Grafton's elegant setting of the nonsense rhyme The Owl and The Pussycat.
The concert as a whole was a well-paced collection of music, beautifully performed. It was interesting to note how identifiable this music was as British or even English; with only a few exceptions there was a consistency of harmony, melodic shape and texture. Jane and Christopher had delighted us to a wonderful evening of song.
Concert, The English Fancie - Revisited,
Camarada, Conway Hall, London, 14th June 2000
June 14th saw one
of the most exciting audiences in some time. We thought we would
not need to worry about being in the smallest room (no euphemism
intended - but it was chamber music) at Conway Hall, but we were
bursting at the seams. Composers, performers, members of the
Rawsthorne Society and representatives from OUP all crammed into
one tiny, hot little room, but it was worth it.
The concert opened with Alan Rawsthorne's unpublished Oboe Quartet, written in 1935. It begins in an unsettled mood, passing angular melodies between the instruments. Regardless of their angularity they were beautifully phrased by the ensemble. The second movements built up complex harmonies which were followed by recitatives for the oboe, building to a climax then returning to the opening idea of the movement. The third movement opens with the fugal treatment of a militaristic theme. A second faster fugal theme comes in and after much fragmentation the two themes are combined. The viola brings back the second theme in compound time. The speed increases and the work ends with unison statements of the second theme.
PDCA composers had been invited to submit works no longer than three minutes. It was interesting to hear how the composers had coped with this restriction. Some coped very well creating pieces that were complete and satisfying statements, while other pieces seemed more like good beginnings for bigger pieces. One satisfying statement was Phillip Pennington Harris' Shorts that is built up of evocative moments of music. Each of the 14 miniatures exist in its own world, often using different instrumental effects, yet despite their individuality, they hang together to make a coherent whole floating in space and time.
Another issue that surfaced in the concert was that of musical content over programmatic content. Some pieces had imaginative, descriptive titles or programme notes. As a listener one had to ask if the piece needed the title or could it stand on its music alone. Sometimes titles get in the way-does a piece of music have to be "about" something?
One piece that worked both musically and programmatically was pencils/lines of inebriation by John Alexander. The piece is built up of one instrument drunkenly trying to follow the line of another, strings sliding from note to note and interrupting each other. The piece still works without title or comic programme notes.
Judith Bailey's Microminature 2 is a string trio in three movements. The first is a linear progress developed from one cell to a climax. The second is more subdued, starting quietly, building slightly then receding. The third movement is a fast, relentless drive to the end. An example of good string writing, as was Howard Skempton's Winter Sunrise. This evokes its title in a long elegiac song, but not a dirge. A hocket section that gives a feel of frost and water dripping from melting icicles occupies the centre span of the work. A similar mood was captured by Enid Luff in her Shallow Sea with Dancing. This piece opens with a haunting oboe solo building to multiphonics. One can easily imagine terns soaring over a grey shoreline.
David Penri-Evans' Four Ways of Having Sex in Zero Gravity is another of those pieces where once you've read the title its hard to listen to the music without preconceptions. The angular, aggressive start develops into a long-phrased melody. Suddenly we are suspended in space with high harmonics from the strings punctuated by melodic cells from the oboe. This develops into a lonely oboe solo. After the return of the harmonics we are thrust back into the opening idea that ends with loud stabbing chords.
The first half ended with Richard Rodney Bennett's Oboe Quartet. It opens with dancy rhythms in short snippets, laying down much of the melodic material for the rest of the piece. This develops into a more placid section out of which grows oboe and violin solos. After a faster section we again get violin and oboe solos and the piece ends with an oboe solo.
The second half opened with the first performance of Alan Rawsthorne's Studies on a Theme by Bach. The work builds up slowly from the BACH motif. The contrapuntal textures gradually fragment leading to a prestissimo section. There is a middle section in 2/4 that then returns to a recapitulation of the prestissimo. The piece ends with an andante that balances the slow introduction.
No. 2 from Andrew McBirnies's Lyrae 1 is a driving, rhythmic duo for violin and cello. The two instruments exchange repeated, pulsating semiquavers while the other plays asymmetric motifs, bouncing off the repeated notes. All very exciting.
Philip Drew's Felix caeli porta is based on a plainsong tune. It starts very slowly with the violin and cello unfolding the plainchant while the cor anglais weaves a free melodic line around it, the last notes sliding up into the ether.
Missing Pieces by Peter McGarr is a set of eight miniatures, each with its own title but flowing seamlessly into the next to create a piece with the feel of a Celtic lament. This was followed by Richard Rodney Bennett's In Memory of Howard Ferguson. This piece, we are told, is built from notes derived from the name of Howard Ferguson, who taught Richard Rodney Bennett. It produces a very lyrical piece that builds to the climax of an oboe cadenza. The strings join in as the piece ends with some of Bennett's lush, jazzy chords.
Howard Skempton's Garland is typical of his simple and direct language. As the title suggests, the material weaves round and around. Although the piece is only three minutes long one would have been happy for it to have been repeated on an infinite loop. It gave the feeling of a serene eternity. Almost as a contrast, Martin Read's The Angel of History opens with busy phrases, sul ponticello from the strings. This buzz forms a background for the oboe d'amore to clmly draw out a long-phrased melody, quoting from Bach's cantata Vergnugte Ruh. This is joined by the strings in the unfolding of the material. The piece moves in and out, from calm to turbulent seas, with the Bach quotation gradually sinking beneath the waves (sorry for all the nautical allusions, you can tell I've been reading the programme notes again). The end is especially effective, gradually fading out with pauses and shorter and shorter phrases.
Camarada gave expert performances to all the pieces, at all times displaying their passion and commitment to the music and their high standard of musicianship. This was a concert that will be remembered for a long time.
Review of the Concerts Portsmouth & Rouen, Spring 2000
Marc Sieffert (saxophone) and Christine Marchais (piano) gave two excellent concerts, the first at Portsmouth Grammar School, February 26th and then at the Conservatiore National de Region de Rouen, February 29th. It is a difficult task to give this review as the previous PDCA concert (4th October) was also for saxophone and piano and included four of the same pieces. Both Marc Sieffert and Griffin Campbell are excellent saxophonists, but very different in style and tone. Marc very correct and focused, while Griff was freer and more influenced by his jazz playing. Of the two of Marc's concert, Rouen was the better. Perhaps because it was their home crowd or because it was the second time through the complete programme, but in any case, both were thoroughly enjoyable evenings.
Marc and Christine opened the evenings with the first movement of Daniel Knott's Sonata for sax and piano. The main theme of this movement is a modal bucolic, folkish tune, reminiscent of Vaughan Williams. The piece works well as an opener, warming the player up and and preparing the audience with an approachable style.
Mysticism pervaded the next work, Invocations by Phillip Pennington Harris. A third movement having been added since its premiere in October. These short pieces take hymn tunes as starting points, though these tunes are not now discernible. As with much of Phillip's music, this work is very atmospheric. One feels there is never a note out of place.
Martin Read's by now familiar The Numbers Game, was played perhaps a little too slow, lacking some of its rhythmic lilt. It works well as a piece, with a good sense of narrative structure. Eloge de la folie by Anthony Girard was a major piece, built on a five-note motive. Rhythmic ostinati ebb and flow, with the perhaps over-used motive never far away. This piece was moved to the end of the programme at Rouen.
At Rouen George Crumb's Five Pieces for solo piano were added. These were a great revelation for some members of the PDCA with its use of extended techniques inside the piano. They were also a wonderful opportunity to hear Christine Marchais as a soloist in her own right. She was excellent and displayed a deep understanding of these pieces.
The first half was brought to a close with Bayou Blues by David Penri-Evans. It begins with a high saxophone wail which gives way to improvisatory flourishes before settling down to an angular atonal blues. Birds and insects can be heard in the haze by the lazy bayou. This piece is, as the title suggests as much a piece of jazz as a "classical" piece and so needs the freer jazz style. A strong performance but perhaps too correct. Have you ever heard of a composer complaining about too many right notes before! The Rouen performance was far less inhibited.
After much page sorting the second half opened with the first performance of a new piece by Philip Drew, Amphitrite. Amphitrite is an ancient name for Venice and in this piece Venice gradually emerges out of the mist across the laguna and eventually sinks again. The language is pure Drew, with many of his signature devices such as the use of open fifths and chords floating in from Messiaen.
Dominique Lamaitre's De la nuit evokes the night with long held notes on the saxophone echoing in side the piano. It is like reflections in a pool. Tension builds up with emphasised notes but calm sonorities soon return. Dominique inhabits a different sound world where time does not exist. In this crazy world he creates a moment where you can just float.
Paul Pilott's Fragments in Camera requires a great deal of input from the performer. No expression markings are given, just instructions of mood at the beginning of sections such as "With Lustful Tenderness". It is therefore more dependant on the performer for its emotional and even musical content than the composer. This worked well for Marc Sieffert and he produced a well-shaped piece.
The concert at Portsmouth ended with Sève by Jean-Pierre Leguay. A very tense piece with only occasional relief. Sève means sap, the life force of a tree - in this case a pretty wild and rugged tree. Fist-fulls of notes for both saxophone and piano, chromatic scales in contrary motion and the sax resonating inside the piano all made a virtuosic impression of a fight for life.
All in all, two excellent performances which were greatly appreciated by both audiences. It is only a pity that we are not able to drum up more support in Britain for new music as they are in France.
David Penri-Evans (& Philip Drew)
Review of Recital by David Baker (trumpet) and Henry Macey (organ & piano), St. Mary's, Alverstoke, Gosport, 31st July 1999
St. Mary's, Alverstoke was the venue for the recent PDCA concert, given by David Baker (Trumpet) & Henry Macey (Organ & Piano), on Saturday 31st July, 1999.
The first half of the programme consisted entirely of works by PDCA members. The evening began with the first performance of Sonore by David Penri-Evans. The title reflected the interests, character and sound-world of this piece which explored the sonorous qualities of trumpet & organ. Beginning with an atmospheric slow section, a brief faster section with more drama followed before returning to the slow music to end.
Tango by Jo Treasure followed. Also for trumpet and organ, this piece was inspired by a poem written by the composer's father, recalling his youth. The music begins with a free-rhythm, quasi improvisatory passage before settling into g minor and the tango of the title. This is music that has charm and a direct appeal - I think it is also the first time I have ever heard a tango played on the organ!
Paul Pilott's Prelude and Fanfare for organ, takes a theme by David Sanger as its inspiration, having been composed recently to show off the new reeds of the rebuilt organ in St. Mary's. It is a confident piece of writing, taking its time to explore and add to registrations but still having a tightly knit construction which leads to a tense and dramatic climax.
Philip Drew's Four Studies, also for organ, explore tone colours and compositional technique. The first presents a single melodic line which gradually expands outwards with a semitone idea, moving into thicker textures, before retreating back to a single and, eventually, fragmented line. The second has a lively, rhythmically charged idea for solo reed and accompaniment, reaching a dramatic conclusion with full, decisive chords. The third begins, almost magically, with two solo flutes, then one against strings & pedal before returning to the opening idea, this time with pedals. The fourth returns to very rhythmical writing with the pedals playing a more thematic role. A middle section has sustained Swell chords over a moving pedal part. The third section returns to the rhythmic manual figuration set against the pedals, building to a powerful final climax. This was well crafted music which suited the instrument very well and was confidently realised by Henry Macey.
Revasserie for trumpet and piano by Paul Pilott explores organic growth. A chordal idea for piano opens the piece and the trumpet soon joins in, building melodic phrases from and around it. As the ideas grow and develop, the music becomes more energetic. There was a certain inevitability about the reversal of this process towards the end, as the opening idea returns and continues to contract, but was no less convincing for all that.
Danny Knott's Soldiers Dream Sleep for trumpet & organ was a moving tribute to those who died in the First World War. Far from being sentimental, the music has a real poignancy, enhanced by a good structure and not without its moments of drama. My only gripe would be the sudden and somewhat incongruous move to C major for the end - maybe my nature is too melancholy but I would have preferred a close in the minor! Nevertheless, this was well written and deeply felt music with an immediate impact.
After the interval and a refreshing glass of wine there was a distinct "change of gear" as we moved back in time to hear David and Henry give an assured performance of F. D. Weber's technically demanding Variations in F. (The F. D., by the way stands for Friedrich Dionyssus. 1766-1842.) This is entertaining, if lightweight music. Likewise, Alfred Hollin's (1865-1942) Song of Sunshine for organ is guaranteed to bring a smile (if not a smirk) to anyone's face. You just cannot take this music seriously! By way of contrast, the far more serious and solid Postlude in C for organ by Henry Smart (1813-1879) is a good reminder of English victoriana - it's not a bad piece, but one cannot help compare it to such masters of the organ as Cesar Franck to see how impoverished musical creativity had become in this country in the 1800's. The Concertino for trumpet and strings by the Swedish composer, Lars-Erik Larsson (- the strings played in a piano reduction with great dexterity) was given a spirited performance by David and Henry and brought us back into the 20th Century. It is by turns rhythmical, Shostakovitch-like, lyrical, neoclassical but above all, joyful music and provided a fitting conclusion to an excellent and memorable evening.
Phillip Pennington Harris
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Review of PDCA Showcase Concert, 13th November 2004, St Marys Alverstoke
The concert opened with Michael Dawney's seasonal Good King Wenceslas lets his hair down - a study of considerable fugal complexity incorporating themes from many well know carols woven into a intriguing texture which suggested that King Wenceslas was indulging in something stronger than the odd glass of mulled wine. This was followed with Bolton Browne's Sans Souci for solo oboe performed by Andrew Knights. Its buoyant, melodic line conveyed a charmingly pastoral optimism, before finally sinking to a contemplative calm. This was followed by his The Soldiers Return for clarinet and electronic clavichord performed by Lesley Potts and Mina Kim. Soloist and accompanist did not always share the same melodic or rhythmic meter that created many interesting dissonances and some of the latter variations seemed to make a nod in the direction of Stravinsky's The Soldiers Tale which was intriguing from such a young composer.
Paul Pilott's Chorale Prelude on Maccabaeus
opening with sombre undercurrents with a buoyant solo above.
Gradually the shadowy feeling is dispersed with bright chord
clusters underpinned by florid bass runs creating a massive,
monumental effect. Finally a more optimistic version of the
opening mood returns ending in a solitary high note.
Philip Drew's Vistas for flute solo presented a long melodic line, which seemed to create a nostalgic impression for a way of life fading in the mists of time and neglect. This lament-like passage gave way to a faster passage only to sink back to the opening stillness.
The next piece by Rathe Hollingum Four Inventions for piano and cor anglais, performed by David Hollingum and Antonio Cascelli, gave rise to many stylistic variations. The first movement was an engaging mixture of lyrical and more angular writing in which contrasts between soloists and accompanist created elements of tension and surprise. The second movement presented a lively and frequently independent line in which soloist and accompanist only occasionally shared the same centre stage.
The third movement was dramatic and declamatory and frequently developed into a contest in instrumental agility before a sinister march-like section builds back to the opening declamatory trills. In the final movement shifting harmonies lead the soloist into a cool, slightly sinister Debussy-esque passage that leads to an enigmatic end.
Leo Boucher's Festive Tocatta produced a contrasting shower or organ fireworks with mind boggling chromatic gestures coruscating in all directions. A calm centre section followed, which was overtaken by a return to the turbulent, exciting opening style that brought the piece to a triumphant conclusion.
Inventions for piano by Terence Allbright takes Bach as its inspiration and from a liquid introductory passage there emerges a study in contrapuntal textures which eventually takes the form of a transparent web of sound which reflects its origins.
This was followed by Amada Fox's Infinity for flute and piano. Occasionally reminiscent of Fauré and Chaminade at their most lyrical, this delightful piece was endlessly stimulating to the ear as technical difficulty facilitated lively melodic and rhythmic invention, demonstrating an impressive rapport between soloist and accompanist.
The final item in this wide-ranging programme was Philip Drews Fanfare Toccata for organ. As its name suggests the opening fanfare motifs give way to calmer mutations of the 12th century tune Orientis Partibus. This is then gradually infiltrated by the opening fanfare motifs that, after a brief coda, brought the whole evening to an enjoyable and impressive conclusion.
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Review of Portsmouth Music Club Concert, 26th February 2005, Christopher Phipps, violin and Karen Kingsley, piano
Another delightful recital involving PDCA champion pianist Karen Kingsley, on this occasion with Christopher Phipps on violin. The mixed programme of established repertoire and PDCA works opened with the Sonata in E Major, Op 5, No. 11 by Arcangelo Corelli whose five contrasting movements require clear articulation, lyricism and rhythmic precision, all of which were amply present.
The first PDCA pieces of the evening then followed: Geoffrey Dales Prelude No. 4 Cancer Blues for a Moody Moon Maiden and Fugue No. 4 Cancer the Crab for piano solo. The Prelude takes the form of a slow blues, moody by nature, with broken chords at the end gradually dying away. The Fugue has two counter subjects and ends with a dramatic tango flourish. Karen sailed through these technically demanding offerings with her customary panache.
Christopher then rejoined Karen for the next item: David Penri-Evans Song of Ajax.This piece was written in Portsmouth in 1988 and first performed later that year in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The work shows the composers interest in repeated chords and how both the melodic and harmonic material for a whole piece can grow out of a single sonority in this case the opening piano chord. The mood swings, the raising of tension including some passages at the extreme upper range of the violin, and the lament-like conclusion were well realised in this performance.
By way of complete contrast, this was followed by the Sonata in B Flat Major, K454 by Mozart with both players enjoying the technical challenges, virtuoso moments and sheer elegance of the writing.
After an interval, we then resumed with: Leo Boucher Air and Rondo. Composed originally for a Czech friend of the composer to play with his granddaughter, the piece includes a ghostly reference to the St. Wenceslas chorale in the second part. There was added poignancy when Leo told the audience that his Czech friends daughter, for whose wedding he (Leo) had played an organ piece based upon the St. Wenceslas chorale, had died tragically young.
Niccolo Paganini Cantabile then followed and as Christophers violin soared and plunged over its extensive compass, Karens discrete, sensitive accompanying added to the enjoyment.
The next PDCA work was: Elia Marios Joannou Impromptu (piano solo). The spontaneity and improvisatory elements of this work were convincingly conveyed by Karen. The flourishes, pauses, and ever-changing moods held the interest of the audience throughout. Amanda Jane Fox Inquietude featuring both players was next. This work is like a journey, composed in distinctive sections that cleverly grow from the eerie opening statement into romantic melodies that lead to an exciting fast section with its rapid passages and rhythmic energy. The piece builds up to a triumphant close but ends dramatically with a return to the opening eerie statement. This piece was clearly enjoyed by audience and performers alike.
Next was Andrew McBirnie Variation for Malcolm (piano solo) (former David Penri-Evans protégé). This is a short, reflective piece based on a sequence of pitches derived from a cypher of the name of Malcolm Singer, the piece's dedicatee: (E)-A-(A)-C-(A-E)-Eb-G-E-(D). Malcolm Singer is Director of Music at the Yehudi Menuhin School, and a noted composer who studied with Ligeti. Karen played thoughtfully and communicated clearly, the regard in which the dedicatee of the piece is held by its composer.
An interesting and varied programme was then brought a dramatic conclusion with a thunderous rendition of Johannes Brahms Scherzo in C minor. Well-deserved applause greeted the performers and a good sized, appreciative audience departed content into a wintry night.
Review of PDCA Showcase Concert, 25th June 2005 St Marks Church, North End, Portsmouth
This was our first visit to St. Marks as a concert venue and the programme began with Leo Bouchers organ piece Anima Christe based on the hymn tune to which the words Soul of My Saviour are usually sung. This was played by Philip Drew who introduced the piece by saying that the harmonic language was reminiscent of Brahms but with some characteristically individual Leo ideas woven into the texture.
David Penri-Evans then performed his Five Haiku for Peace his first public performance for some years! These typically thoughtful pieces reflecting as they do, the spirit and brevity of the Haiku without attempting to follow the formal structure of Japanese Haiku poems were well received and carefully listened to by an appreciative audience.
Next came an accomplished performance by Jane Hoskins of Philip Drews Two John Donne Songs, with the composer at the piano. These are early works and although Philip explained that he feels he has moved on as a composer over the intervening years since writing them, he likes these pieces for their own sake and still enjoys performing them.
Rathe Hollingums Variations for Cor Anglais followed and was given a stylish reading by Lucinda Willits, accompanied on the piano by Steven Berryman. Rathe says his music is often a personal statement or a response to some event in world affairs. This reflective and meditative work was composed after the tsunami disaster in December 04.
Philip Drews Two Thomas Hardy Songs came next and were convincingly performed by Marlene Purdy, with Philip providing his usual sensitive piano accompaniment. The subject matter of these poems is potentially depressing but the performance captured the vitality and drama of the musical settings very well.
Two Locations by Nick Ray followed and was performed with virtuoso relish by the composer himself. The first piece, a quiet nocturne inspired by views of a quiet estuary in Kent, is in stark contrast to the crashing and cascading style of the second, which depicts a spectacular waterfall in Cornwall.
The programme ended with Is It Me by Ignacio Agrimbau and performed by several players who are members of the COMA South Ensemble, for whom the piece was written. The ensemble was conducted by the composer. Each individual player had before him or her a number of different musical fragments which were called into play at the behest of the conductor by a pre-arranged system of signs. Ones guess is that the structure and duration of the piece can therefore be endlessly variable. There were some striking individual contributions including wordless solos for baritone voice which were delivered in an exciting and compelling manner. The whole experience was thought provoking. An unanswered question in my mind was how important or otherwise it may be to balance the equation, in such a lengthy piece, of consistently engaging the audience, with the obvious relish of the participants.
There had been much to enjoy and much to reflect upon as our Summer Concert ended with our customary glass of wine and socialising.
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Review of Recital 17th September,
London, Karen Kingsley, piano.
In Shoreditch, London's notorious East End the Alliance gathered for a concert with the Forum London Composer Group. The setting may have been less than salubrious, but the music was anything but. We even, despite the location had an audience - some we had not brought ourselves!
The piano is an instrument that allows great experimentation with sound. Percussive in its playing, yet capable of long sustained passages. The pianist as orchestra with multiple melodic lines at the same time. Individual struck notes, often against long notes creating their own church-like echo, and structuring multiple levels of dissonance, then a break to loud, rapid runs the speed of which is only restrained by the fingers playing them. It was interesting then, that overall there was a cohesion of, if not style, at least use of the instrument. The same techniques and yet different moods.To tackle this complexity we were lucky to have Karen Kingsley. A superb Royal Academy trained pianist and teacher she approached the pieces with a skill that allowed for both stabbing attacks on the keyboard and delicate, wistful contemplation. We must not forget as well to thank David Penri-Evans for the normally thankless and, in this case, demanding task of page turning. The work the audience put in to following these pieces was matched by that he had to spend to turn in the right places!
The first half began with Suite Op.7 by Alun Grafton which introduced the techniques that would be seen across the concert. With its intriguing sudden injection to the dissonance of "natural" chords, the chords seemed more strange than that which had gone before. Philip Drew's Arabesque followed, creating tension through keys depressed without actually striking, the sound waited to unfold into the acoustic of the building. This dance felt one of aching loss, although it seems strange to produce 'joy' in assonance and long high chords. They sit on top of a scene and tease the nerves. Again in Inventions Op.11 by Terence Allbright, urgency was felt as constant motion gave way to a more studied movement the decrease in speed heightening the urgency through it's deliberation. The next piece was more of a celebration.Two Piano Pieces by Jo Treasure was one of a couple of pieces performed written as a birthday present for Malcom Singer - deriving their keys from the letters of his name. 1. Dissent and 2. Reflecting on Accord experimented with the strengths of the piano working from the dissent to investigate more traditional key progressions and chord structure The final piece this half was Echos des Cinq Elements. Dominique Lemaitre anchored this by repeating notes at the high end of the keyboard. The bass drifted in and out, occasionally beset by rumbling chords, all returning to the sonar-like echo motif acting like an off-time clock; continuing the onward motion; suggesting how the next section would develop. Acoustic/harmonic vibration altered the chords without altering the notes played. Step by step the piece moved to new positions without losing its connection to the other sections.
After the break Karen cut through the slight fog of wine and relaxation with a stirring rendition of Zodiak Prelude and Fugue No5 (Leo) by Geoffrey Dale. With a rousing atmosphere of Jeeves and Worcster it was very different in style and feel to the pieces that had gone before. Fiendishly difficult in the fugue section it seemed threatening to fall over itself but, avoiding lasting stability, it always bounced back up again. Re-awakened after the interval we moved onto Brown Studies by David Penri-Evans. An often simple line travelled between the two hands essaying intimacy. The chords that came in - some hesitant, some final - altered the feel of each part, whilst leaving the same basic line running across the whole. Next was Nick Ray's piece Two Localities. In these two localities the image of water was uppermost as the sound almost smeared across the church with different themes - for the estuary - handing one to the other and then - for the drama of the falls - battling for supremacy; the different moving structures skimming and rushing together like the water that inspired them. Then we had another piece for Malcom Singer, this one Variations for Malcom by Andrew McBirnie, again based on his name. This piece took the basic pattern in a different direction to Jo Treasure's, highlighted by the fact they used the same chord structure. The two pieces being so closely linked and yet noticeably different showed the versatility of the piano, and the possibilities for composers. Suggestions...were just that. Written to be played almost as the pianist wants they suggest and the pianist interprets. They could have been in any order and the next time they are heard they will probably be in a different one. They had mutating patterns anchored by the bass line which allowed the pieces to move in any direction whilst still being part of what went before. Finally we had Phillip Pennington Harris' Six Little Piano Pieces, these involved an interplay of melodic ideas and themes, altered across different tempos and playing styles which built towards the last piece until a hurtling end that brought the concert to a dynamic close.
was a fascinating look at the possibilities of the piano,
featuring a wide display of themes, melodic lines, assonance,
tempos and other musical devices. That almost everyone drew
on the same techniques gave the concert an over-arching
unity; that they all used them in their own styles broke that
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Review of Recital by Nicholas Watts
(Tenor) and James Longford (Piano)
25th February, 2006, Portsmouth Grammar School Rotunda
concert, devoted as it was to songs by English composers,
revealed a great diversity of styles and idioms, but also a
convincing overall unity with its well-chosen programme, which
opened with Purcells Music for a While.
This song, with its winding bass line creating spare but
sufficient support for the long intricate phrases, provided the
ideal opening. It reminded us of Purcells important
influence on the renaissance of English music in the 20th
century, and his inspiration to composers such as Vaughan
Williams, Britten and Tippett.
The first and third songs from Philip Drews Rimes Vexation transported the audience forward some three hundred years. The first (The Dream) was particularly striking with its use of interwoven whole-tone scales, and its evocative melody seemed repeatedly to drift and dissolve and then gather strength from its accompaniment. The relentless forward movement of the harmony was admirable and, considering the almost fatal ease with which whole-tone material can become wishy-washy and directionless in a less skilled composers hands, revealed the remarkable inventive capacity and resourcefulness of the composer.
Geoffrey Dales Come Sleep followed and proved to be an effective setting of the Elizabethan poet John Fletchers words, with its languorous chordal accompaniment providing a simple yet persuasive alternative to Peter Warlocks handling of the same text.
The three Ivor Gurney songs Black Stitchel, Down by the Sally Gardens and In Flanders involve the pianist as something approaching an equal, rather than a merely supporting role. The first, with its florid piano figuration and exuberant climaxes had an irresistible forward momentum, contrasting with the bleak and sombre In Flanders.
Paul Pilotts two songs (Ex Libris Wilfred Owen Nocturne and On a Dream) returned us to the stark reality of warfare and what the composer described as the temporary escape from this horror through dreams. These proved to be distinctive and skilful settings.
Brittens Winter Words finished the first half of the programme. This work revealed Brittens unrivalled technical mastery in its treatment of the vocal lines and the piano accompaniments, both of which are highly original and fascinatingly varied.
After a short interval, the concert reopened with three songs by Finzi (Till Earth Outwears). These songs were very much in the English pastoral tradition with their modal melodies and active though not overbearing accompaniments.
Cedric Peacheys setting of Housmans Into my heart an air that kills did full justice to this very short but highly charged poem, whose sense of loss in the last two lines The happy highways wher I went, and cannot come again is overwhelming.
Michael Dawneys two songs from The Cattery lightened the mood slightly. The first, Cat Song told the story of these noble creatures through the ages, and was full of whimsical humour, reinforced by the pianos scattered gestures and sudden comments. The second, Lick and Purr was a meditative song in a barcarolle rhythm, and had the same luxuriant ease as a sleeping cat, bringing to mind Mark Twains observation: A home without a cat a properly revered and well-fed cat may be a perfect home, but how can it prove title?
The final item was the substantial song cycle On Wenlock Edge. Vaughan Williams was still studying with Ravel in 1909 when he composed this work and the early 20th century French harmonic influence is discernible. There are distinctly Debussyan aspects to the first song, whose vigorous accompaniment evokes the gale that plies the saplings double. Vaughan Williams combined the harmonic characteristics of his training with the distinctive modal contours of English folk music, and echoes of his Pastoral Symphony are heard at the start of Is my team ploughing?
Overall, this was a highly enjoyable concert, and our thanks go to the performers and those who organised the event.
Review of Monington Duo Concert
Saturday 16th September 2006, St Cyprians Church, London
All Ears Contemporary Music Festival
This was the second year PDCA had given a concert as part of the All Ears Festival and it proved to be another memorable evening. Robert Blanken, clarinet and Karen Kingsley, piano were on good form. The programme had a lively start with Spring Bandusia by Alun Grafton. After a brisk start the piece slows to a more languid and reminiscent pace. It is a well crafted piece that ends on a positive note. Next was the first performance of Paul Pilotts Impromptu composed especially for Karen and Rob. There is a confident start with a more challenging harmonic language than Alun Graftons piece. Often using whole-tome and octatonic the augmented 4th is predominant. The improvisatory piece alternates strident sections with more reflective parts, ending in the reflective mood.
It was lovely that Karen and Rob included a piece by Danny Knott. His Break-Through is in a conventional style with quirky moments and glimpses of 1940s romance, perhaps on the Orient Express. The piece quickly moves from one idea to another and keeps the listener entertained all the time.
Next on the menu was an early piece by John Cage, his Sonata for solo clarinet. This was a virtuosic display which Rob handled with aplomb. This was followed by Three Short Pieces by Anthony Green. The set were in a similar vein to the Cage and made a good partnership. The moods were well judged, especially the dramatic gestures of the last movement.
The solo opening of Judith Baileys Mordryg led into a pleasant and smooth piece that gently carried you into another country. The first half of the concert was brought to a close with the first performance of Geoffrey Dales Sonatina. The piece has a quirky opening in 5/8 alternating with passages in 6/8. The stately middle section is a slow, majestic march, which leads straight into a bright fugue, again using syncopated 6/8 rhythms. This last section was very catchy and everybody was singing it during the interval.
The second half opened with A la Santé by Michael Lawlor. This was the most extensive piece of the evening. The work was originally written as a vocal piece, but in this version the vocal line has been replaced by the clarinet. Stylistically the compositional language combines traditional tonality and avant garde atonality. I suspect that it would be very difficult to sing, but it worked really well on the clarinet with a wide range of textures and techniques. One section had big arpeggios up and down the pianoably carried out by Karen, while another section had pure melodic lines in the clarinet accompanied by just single notes on the piano.
After the longest piece of the evening came the shortestmy own Five Haiku for Peace. I probably shouldnt review my own music, but what the heckit was brilliantthe performance that is. These little pieces were written in 1995 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan and the end of the Second World War. Karens exquisite performance of the atmospheric miniatures, for me, really captured their essence.
Ed de Boers Nocturne was a good follow on in mood and, as its title suggests, it captured the mood of the night. Philip Drews Amphitrite was another substantial piece of the evening. The music emerges from the lagoona and becomes a celebration of the glories of Venice using flourishes and pseudo medieval harmonies. It then returns to the mists from whence it came a most effective piece.
The concert came to a fun end with Cedric Peacheys Buffies Waltz. A light piece quoting from the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer mixes dark, ironic humour with a waltz rhythm which varies from relentless mania to dream-like melancholia. The balance of the programme was so well-judged and was typical of so many PDCA concerts, a good mix of styles and moods, from tonal pastoral harmonies to complex contemporary languages of the past 60 years, from serious contemplations to light-hearted lollipopsand with excellent performers. Karen and Rob are to be congratulated and thanked for such a wonderful evening.
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Review of Nero String Quartet Recital
St Marys Parish Church, Alverstoke
Saturday 2nd December 2006 Review
...The concert began with the second of Brian Wilsheres Three Munch Pieces which were inspired by the three paintings of Edward Munch. The Dance of Life opened with vigorous alternation between the pizzicato arching phrases and energetic chordal interruptions. There was a dramatic switch from vertical to horizontal textures in the contrasting middle section, with its intricate polyphony, which was altogether extremely persuasive.
Mark Goulds Quartettsatz 13 developed from its unison opening to a kind of perpetuum mobile scherzo, which maintained its unity through its distinctive textural continuity. The slow movement with variations accumulated over a pizzicato motif to reach an effective climax, involving skilful and varied treatment of the basic material.
Paul Pilotts Sculpture in Sound created a distinctive atmosphere with its dissonantly expressive chorale introduction and vanishing tremolandi. The restless melodic shapes described by the composer gradually coalesced into an intricate contrapuntal web before the restatement of the chorale-like material provided the appropriate sense of finality.
The second movement from Anthony Greens String Quartet No. 3 revealed this composers remarkable skill and economy to its full, with expressive lines and fluid rhythmic combinations. It is much to be regretted that we did not have the opportunity to hear the rest of this work, which was highly commended in the University of Aberdeen Music Prize Competition in April 2005.
David Penri-Evans composed his Elegy in 1978, and there is a strong autobiographical, programmatic element to this work. The slow and dark-hued first section introduced two distinctive themes, making use of the poignant major-minor clash in tonality as a unifying device overshadowing all the three sections despite their contrasts of tempo and mood.
The final item before the interval was Alun Graftons In Camera 6 Op. 37. This work, less obviously atonal than some of the others, created an atmosphere entirely its own, and the ternary structure seemed the ideal form to support its vigorous forward motion.
The second half of the concert was taken up with Mozarts 19th Quartet [The Dissonance] (the last of the series dedicated to Haydn). This work remains as astonishing to a modern ear as it must have seemed to the audiences of 1785, and Mozarts fecundity of invention and spontaneity of melody have seldom been surpassed.
The Mozart quartet was an altogether ideal work to end what had been an extremely enjoyable concert. Our thanks go to the performers, whom we hope to hear again soon.
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Review of Lawson Trio Recital
Portsmouth Grammar School
Saturday, 14th April 2007
This concert was our annual event for the Portsmouth Music Club and we always try to ensure that we put on a good show for them. This was certainly true on this evening.
The Lawson Trio is a very talented group and presented a challenging programme with great finesse. The first pieces of the evening were Paul Pilotts Carpet Music and Balloon Music, two short pieces written for Novembers Sixty Second Film Festival. These entertaining pieces do what happens in the filmsascending scales as the pile of carpet squares build up and the descending scales as the go down. With the balloon piece the piece builds to a climax with a forearm smash to the keyboard as the balloon bursts.
Judith Baileys Microminiature No 1 is a well-written piece. The first section is intense with good ensemble writing. It gives the feeling that you are looking at a broad landscape. The second section has a light start with an almost 1920s feel and develops into a lilting section giving the feeling of a horse riding.
Haydns Piano Trio in E was delightful, with a more serious Allegretto second movement. The Trio were able to show off their ensemble playing and the piece worked the pianist very hard. The finale had some of the cross rhythms found in some of Haydns piano sonatas.
The Trio gave a convincing performance of David Penri-Evans Rain Journal to close the first half of the programme. This piece takes the attentive listener on a roller-coaster of an emotional trip the musical language chosen shows the influence of serialism with uncompromising harmony and dynamic rhythmic drive depicting the urgent passions of the former relationship, after the reflective opening. The palindrome structure leads inexorably to a sense of resignation in the quiet closing movement, but resignation of the Je ne regrette rien variety one would suspect? (Paul Pilott)
The second half began with Geoffrey Dales A Little Water Music. It opens with trickling passages in the piano and pizzicato in the strings suggesting water droplets. The music builds to a stormy climax. As the tempest calms, snippets return us to the opening ideas and the piece ends as a polite stream.
The remainder of the programme was given over to Ravels Trio. This was in every way the best piece of the evening and brought the best out of the performers. It was worth the ticket price just for this. The first movement is intense and emotional, building to total ecstasy. The second movement is a light scherzo, almost coquettish and very oh la la. The Passacaille is like a sombre prayer that builds and reaches the heights of passion. It gradually subsides back to the lower register of the piano setting the scene for the finale. The brief last movement starts with flashing lights and references to themes from the other movements. It again becomes impassioned and the virtuosic coda brings the work to an exhilarating close. For this fine performance the Trio got long and well deserved applause.
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Review of PDCA Autumn Showcase Concert
St Marys Church, Alverstoke
Saturday, 20th October 2007
A friendly audience gathered in St Marys for this self-performed concert. Paul Pilott opened proceedings playing his Chorale Prelude on Maccabeus. Based on the familiar hymn Thine be the Glory it opened slowly with a meditative single line. Gradually the pace picked up with extracts from the tune in the right hand. The piece worked up to fanfare-like chords sounding a little like Kenneth Leighton. The piece returned to its meditative mood to finish.
Nick Ray and Anthony Green had agreed to play some of each others music as well as their own so next up were two piano pieces by Anthony GreenBeinn Spionnaidh and Sgaoth Aird. Both titles come from names of mountains. The first opened with quite chords then the right hand introduced free ideas. There were hints of Messiaen the harmonies and bird calls. Counterpoint developed between the hands before the mists descended again. The second piece was much louder with dramatic leaps suggesting rugged crags, steep slopes and deep chasms.
As a good contrast Amanda Jane Fox gave the premier of her piano pieces, Revelation and Tranquility. Revelation was very much in the French style of a Debussy Arabesque. It started in a reflective mood, became more active and ended in a positive frame. Tranquillity was a clear well structured piece, tranquil yet very emotive music. Both pieces were very pianistic.
Next we had Nick Ray playing his own Three Transcriptions from Songs of Collision. These were piano transcriptions of songs Nick had written for tenor and chamber ensemble based on poems by Stephen Crane. Nicks harmonic language is quite complex and it would have been interesting to hear these pieces in their original instrumentation as I felt the vocal line particularly got lost in the middle of the piano texture. The first piece started with a simple texture of a line played quietly in octaves. The texture thickened and led into the second song which had a quite dense texture. The third song was a nocturne with distant sound of the night fluttering around the central vocal linevery effective.
Louise Helyer played her piano piece Untitled. In the style of John Cage this had originally been for performance on prepared piano but has been developed further now for performance on an ordinary piano (and prepared performer). The piece had lots of space and was built of repeated cells; a left hand ostinato in 7 becomes very rhythmic. The piece ends enigmatically with a few quiet notes.
A new (old) instrument was the centre of attention in the next piece. Michael Lawlor played his Capriccio on a renaissance cornett, expertly accompanied by Karen Kingsley on the piano. The piece was written especially for the concert and cleverly showed off the capabilities of this unusual instrument. The piece opened brightly, playing with cross-rhythms of 3 and 4. Michael used what he referred to as polyoctave modesmodes that are different in the second octave from the first, making it sound vaguely diatonic. The second section was slower and more contrapuntal and the third section returned to the cross-rhythms of the opening and ended with a flourish. The instrument has a wonderful mellow tone and sounds as though it is covered in leatherwhich it is. This piece showed off its range and agility really well.
The next piece was Egypt Bay by Nick Ray played on the piano by Anthony Green. The piece forms the middle movement of Nicks Mirror Variations. The opening of repeated cluster chords suggests a calm, bleak landscape. The piece builds in intensity with big chords.
Each piece seems in the concert gave a good contrast with those next to it. So it was with Snow by Paul Pilott. This song to words by Edward Thomas was performed on the PDCAs first concert at Steep. Repeated cluster chords in the piano provide a static background for the recitative-like vocal line. The performance was beautifully judged by soprano Sylvia Lock with a good clear tone.
The concert ended with Anthony Green playing his own Parergon. This scherzando has fast ideas and fists-fulls of notes. A harsh chordal section led to a slower section. This started low and built up, using themes from earlier. The coda ends with a whimsical flourish.
The concert was just the right length and showed off the talents of the members, both as composers and performers. Our special thanks go to the guest performers, Karen Kingsley and Sylvia Lock.
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Review of recital by Jane Sherriff and Gilly Slot
Portsmouth Grammar School
Saturday, 12th April 2008
After a day of torrential downpours, an evening with some sunshine and soprano, Jane Sherriff, with pianist, Gilly Slot, gave a concert of PDCA composers works and some interlopers (Bach, Mozart and Vaughan Williams) in association with Portsmouth Music Club, who provided most of the audience.
English pastoral music is not just music on rural life, but looks back to an Arcadian time and also relies heavily on Shakespeare, madrigals, folk-song and modal music. Such ideas have a peculiar manifestation in the English musical renaissance, being used to describe works of composers from a century ago: Vaughan Williams, Finzi, Gurney, Butterworth and much of it an alternative response to the Great War. But such ideas have survived the hard edge of modernism and can still be heard today. Most of the songs from this evenings concert have subject matter akin with the English pastoral tradition and music to match.
The concert opened with two songs by Alun Grafton, Colours & Summer Days. There were shades of Tudor England to be heard in Colours, a work that responded very well to the text, by Aluns mother-in-law, Marjorie Wheeler. The voice was carefully supported by the piano, but when the piano was let loose, I detected hints of Einaudi. Alun describes his second song, Summer Days, as being very different in musical language. The serial elements certainly make this obvious from the start, but the vocal line is in keeping with Colours and the two songs really do belong together. The serial elements of Summer Days are not treated in the style of Webern and his followers, but sound more like the wrong notes in a conventional, tonal work, with hints of Bartók this time.
Michael Lawlors Old Dreams uses modes that are different in each octave that lend themselves to subtle harmonies over the two verses. The setting has a quiet political message about how society treats its soldiers returning from war. The song is calm throughout but with moving undercurrents and dissonance in the piano. In the second verse the dissonance becomes more prominent as the soldiers disillusionment sets in, with the voice often sounding like it is in a different realm to that of the piano.
Pauline Skinner provided us with the only work of the evening for unaccompanied voice. She chose the pentatonic scale to give a feeling of place to the Japanese poem set, Ikeda Interlude: the unanswered question, dwelling on the characteristic intervals of the pentatonic mode. This could sound like orientalist pastiche, but the sound was not so much oriental, as Celtic, and another manifestation of the English pastoral.
Yet again, Nick Rays I have a pact was very much in keeping with the English pastoral tradition, but a much more modern, brittle sound-world, not unlike Roger Steptoe, Justin Connolly or Nicholas Maw, with its soaring vocal line over an ebullient accompaniment. Nicks second song, Today was the drear song, was much calmer, starting with a simple decorated line in the piano. These two songs made a satisfying and unified pair of songs which could be listened to again and again.
There was a diversion in the programme at this point, with a single movement from a piano sonata by Mozart (Allegro from Sonata in F K547a). Part of a two movement work assembled from other sources by Mozart himself. Mozart piano sonatas usually do what it says on the tin with expected surprises and this movement was no exception. Mozart can teach us all how to compose, even when running on auto-pilot. The performance by Gilly Slot showed that she was at home with this repertoire and it was given a very modern performance.
Martin Reads Scenes from Shakespeare presented us with a continuous sequence of four songs taken from diverse plays (As You Like It, The Tempest, Macbeth and Henry VIII). Recitative played a significant part in these songs and the opening one, from As You Like It, was particularly striking. The motifs from the piano part underpin and fit the words very well, while all four songs are very restrained in their emotional level, with a similar range of textures and tempi throughout, counteracted by subtle rhythms.
More Shakespeare completed the first half with Vaughan Williams Three Songs from Shakespeare. What was most remarkable about these songs was how at home they felt amongst the contemporary works being performed this evening. The three songs are short and to-the-point: Vaughan Williams shows us all how succinct and direct composing should be done. The first song, Take, O take has very sparse accompaniment which puts the voice centre-stage and uses the absolute minimum required to get the mood across. The second, When Icicles Hang by the Wall, is much livelier and the final one, Orpheus with his Lute, shows the typical, lyrical qualities of this great composer, presented as a miniature in this case.
The second half started almost where it left of, with a second setting of Orpheus with his Lute by Vaughan Williams. Although this setting predates the other by more than twenty years, this is the original of which the version from Three Songs is a reworking. This is a lovely song on its own, but I think Vaughan Williams did improve on it in the later setting. Another Vaughan Williams song, Silent Noon, followed. Characteristic chord sequences tell us almost immediately that this is Vaughan Williams, although there were times when Schumann seemed to exert an influence. This is a beautifully paced work.
The contemporary works of the second half did not wrench us too violently away from Vaughan Williams world. Geoffrey Dales Come Sleep starts with a sustained opening and sets just a single mood, supported by a return to the same group of chords and a very light accompaniment, with continually falling lines in the voice.
Paul Pilotts The Stricken Dear focuses our attention on the voice by giving the piano very little to do: merely a repeated falling motif. The musical material grows out of this initial idea, but never really strays too far. It doesnt do much, but it does it very well! Perhaps The Stricken Dear comes closest to the conciseness of the Vaughan Williams songs.
One might expect Brian Wilshires Fire and Ice to be full of fuoco e gelato but the title of the song is misleading: the nature of the words is reflective and refers to escaping from the cold into warmth, so no fireworks in the piano part, but simple harmonies and alternating chords. The vocal writing is particularly skilled and seemed as if it was perhaps one of the easier songs in the programme to sing.
Anthony Greens Two Songs from Blakes Songs of Experience presents us with a couple of very short songs with piano writing hinting at Schoenberg in The Sick Rose. Having said that, the vocal lines are still typically English pastoral, as are the choice of words, especially in The Lilly, which is stylistically much more straight-forward, albeit extremely short.
To pick a well-known text set by a famous composer could be seen as foolhardy or courageous. This is what David Penri-Evans chose to do by setting Klingsors LIndifférent, used by Ravel in Shéhérazade. For those familiar with Davids work, this may be quite a surprise, having a rather minimalist piano accompaniment, sometimes almost reduced to pentatonic doodling, to a Ravelian vocal line. It sounds as if the musical influence might come not from Shéhérazade itself, but Soupir, one of the Trois Poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé, a much more forward looking work of Ravels, perhaps influenced by Schoebergs Pierrot Lunaire (it had been planned to be premiered in the same concert in 1913 along with Stravinskys Three Japanese Lyrics). This makes it more directly relevant to Davids other works. The music, perhaps helped by the French language, does not have the strong English pastoral feel.
Another detour was provided with three dances from Bachs French Suite No. 6 in E. There are two main camps today on performing Bach on the piano. Some players and listeners like it the way it used to be, before the Early Music revival, Glenn Gould being an extreme example. Others prefer a performance that attempts to make the piano sound a little more like a harpsichord. Gilly Slot gave us a bit of both, refraining from using the pedal in the Allemande and Gigue, so we could hear the clarity of the texture, and adding pedal in the Sarabande, which for a slow dance is extremely busy. One can easily imagine that the distinct strains of the Gigue being accompanied by changes of registration on a harpsichord; this is something the modern piano cannot do beyond using stepped dynamics.
We now go back to Shakespeare again with Three Shakespeare Songs by Adam Swayne. First impressions of The Woosell Cock were of a cabaret song, with very nice interplay between the lines of the voice and piano. I loathe that I did love provides contrast with a slow melody above simple chords. This has a menacing middle section leading to a melancholic ending, suiting the words perfectly. Where the bee sucks starts with a cadenza-like piano part, at times comical with jazzy harmonies and dramatic flourishes. There is then surprisingly a complete change of mood, with the singer humming and again jazz-like harmonies in the piano (hints of Gershwins Summertime) with a dynamic final flourish from both voice and piano. These make a very effective set of songs with plenty of variety.
Finally in the programme was another song by Geoffrey Dale, The Owl and the Pussycat. This went down very well with the audience and is an example of a well-written, comic song, with no pretensions beyond trying to entertain.
I feel mention must be made of the quality of sound. The Rotunda of Portsmouth Grammar School is an ideal venue for an intimate recital such as this, but the piano was too insipid in tone and really needs to be treated more robustly to provide the full emotional range that many of these songs demand, perhaps the lid of the piano should have been opened a little. Jane Sherriffs voice is certainly strong enough to take a more forthright approach; it was particularly suited to the evenings repertoire and Gilly Slots sensitive accompaniment supported the voice well. I hope they will be able to support similar events in future.
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Catherine Nicholson, Karen Kingsley & the Portsmouth Grammar School Contemporary Music Group Recital
Portsmouth Grammar School
Saturday, 22nd November 2008
This concert included Catherine Nicholson, flute, Karen Kingsley, piano and the Portsmouth Grammar School Contemporary Music Group, directed by Adam Swayne. The programme included a wide range of recent music, ranging from traditional compositions to the more experimental and was a fitting way to celebrate St Cecilias day.
The concert began before it startedthat is to say that the first piece began with members of the Contemporary Music Group wandering in and seeming to tune, thus the piece being some time before it became apparent that this is fact was the first piece. This innovative idea has been around for 40 or so years, yet some people still found it surprising. The piece, A by Michael Lawlor, gradually builds as more and more instruments join in using aleatoric material. As all the material was based on the harmonic series of A it produced a very calm opening to the concert, that is until they jumped straight into Michaels second piece, 325 of Noise which climaxed with music stands being knocked over.
Sanity was restored by Catherine Nicholson and Karen Kingsley performing Phillip Pennington Harris Le campane della Toscana. The piece captures the idea of bells in distant Italian villages with spacious sonorities in the piano contrasted with lyrical lines in the flute. Activity builds and then fades back into the tapestry of sonorities with wisps of plainsong.
Amanda Foxs In the Clouds was greatly enjoyed by many of members of the audience as it was a more traditional, romantic piece. It showed great mastery of melody, harmony and structure and cleansed the palate.
Terence Allbrights Partita starts with a prelude with a single chromatic theme using duplet and triplet quavers. A restful Chaconne follows without a break. It has an improvisatory melody over a short chord progression. A flute cadenza takes us into the Toccata with continuous semiquavers in the piano giving the feel of a perpetual mobile. After building to a climax the piece dies away to nothing.
The PGS Contemporary Music Group returned with Alan Graftons Preludium 4, written for flexible quartet, played this evening by violin, oboe, trumpet and cello. The piece builds up sonorities and uses various ostinatos eventually dying away. The first half was brought to a close by Philip Drews theatrical Jacta alea est. The piece consists of various musical cells (many in graphic notation) that the players perform according to the throw of dice, which they did live during the performance. The piece has a steady pulse and the rest is the consequence of the roll of the dieit all seemed to make sense at the time.
The second half opened as the first with a Michael Lawlor piece, Sonata Temere on A la Santé. This was another aleatoric piece with ideas coming from Michaels piece A la Santé with sections determined by the conductor. We returned to the more traditional with Prelude and Fugue Gemini by Geoffrey Dale for piano and flute. A quirky little piece with a jazzy fugue that made me think of cats climbing a ladder. Karen then showed her brilliance playing Benjamin Brittens Nocturne. The master showed us all how to do it.
Philip Drews Fantasy-Sonatina opens dramatically with Messiaen-like chords in the piano and a flourish in the flute which returns throughout the as a sort of ritornello. The work unfolds over four sections with many French influences coming throughthat could just be because its for flute. It takes through many moods including a delightful (three-legged) waltz and long, fluid flute lines. The piece ends with a quiet coda based on the ritornello material.
The concert ended with the Contemporary Music Group performing Adam Swaynes Maggie Maggie Maggie! Sing Sing Sing! This fun piece combines theatre, music and politics. The ensemble was set up in two rows facing each other as if in the House of Commons. It is built over a taped loop of Margaret Thatcher say No! (and occasionally Yes) - a la Steve Reich. This gives a very strong rhythmic pulse as a backdrop. The performers then play musical phrases over this, often standing as they do so. The piece works its way to a climax and ends with cries of Order! Order! The audience clearly found this very entertaining as they had the whole evening. It was an ideal close to a varied and enjoyable evening.
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Terence Allbright Recital
Portsmouth Grammar School
Saturday 28th February 2009
The Portsmouth Music Club was again treated to another excellent PDCA concert, this time by pianist/composer Terence Allbright. Terry warmed the audience up for the first twenty minutes with Schumanns Nachtstücke before getting into more contemporary repertoire.
The first PDCA piece was Musette on a Theme of Martin Read by Paul Pilott. The piece opens with Martins theme played against interspersed chords. The theme becomes a sort of continuous ostinato as the piece works up to a climax. There is almost the feeling of distant bells heard across a meadow.
Philip Drews Colours is a set of five pieces each lasting exactly one minute. Blue moves up and down a blues chord; Green is a pastorale in seven time with an octatonic feel to it; Purple is a laid-back piece with a melody over a bluesy chord; Red uses the whole tone scale in two-part counterpoint; Black ends the set with a funeral marchhere you get the feel of Debussys La Cathédrale Engloutie with a little Scottish snap.
Terry then played his own Nocturne. This piece starts off with a feeling of quiet anxiety created by syncopated counterpoint followed by heavier chords. This mood continues alternating quiet anxiety with heavier sections. The rhythms created are often quite jazzy.
Anthony Paynes Homage to Debussy is based on two intervals, the perfect fourth and the tritone. However, if one expected the piece to sound like Debussy there were only momentary glimpses. The piece has a flow of considerable energy and builds to two powerful climaxes. It then gradually climbs down as if exhausted from the effort.
The second half of the concert opened with Legend No. 1 St Francis of Asissithe bird-sermon by Franz Liszt. The piece demanded considerable technical craft from Terry but it was perhaps the tritest piece on the programme with bird effects sounding like they possibly came out of a Disney film.
The most substantial piece of the evening was Sebastian Forbes Sonata-Rondo. It was the most demanding on the pianist and the audience, requiring close attention at all times. The single-movement work has eight themes presented in a variety of ways. It opens with an agitated chordal section with cross rhythms reminiscent of Stravinsky that gradually gives way to a more spacious theme. Themes are interwoven alternating well-judged highs and lows in tension. The harmonic language, somewhere between Schoenberg and Messiaen, keeps the listeners attention and moves the piece forward along with sections of rhythmic drive and calm. After a very busy section the piece opens out to the more spacious theme again that brings it to a close.
The concert was brought to a jolly close with William Alwyns neoclassical Sonata alla Toccata. This was like a light desert after a sumptuous meal. The three movements (fast, slow, fast) are derived from the material presented in the first three bars. The finale with driving rhythms builds to a big climax then ends in a triumphant coda.
Terry had given a brilliant performance and we were very lucky to have been there. An excellent range of pieces expertly played.
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Mark Wardell, organ workshop-recital
Saturday 16 May 2009
St Marys Church, Alverstoke
Mark Wardell, Assistant Organist of Chichester Cathedral gave an excellent workshop recital as part of the BARN (British Academy Regional Network) meeting. He opened by discussing and playing extracts from You have seen the house built, a new choral work written by Will Todd for Chichester Cathedral and first performed there last October. Mark talked about how he had gone about registering the demanding organ part. Following this he played a piece written by Austrian organist-composer Anton Heiller - a demanding test piece that Mark played with ease. He then played extracts from Festive Voluntary: Variations on Good King Wenceslas, a piece also written for Chichester.
Mark discussed and performed three pieces by PDCA composers. H particularly talked about various issues regarding registration and emphasised how important it was for composers to discuss this with the organist as every organ is different. Not only can the registration affect the piece but also the acoustic of the building.
Halo by Philip Drew was a contemplative miniature originating as an improvisation. Philip had used a very simple registration of 8 gamba with 4 and 2 flutes, building up overtones over pedal notes. This amazing spacious piece clearly caught Mark Wardells imagination. I suspect the congregation at Chichester Cathedral may occasionally hear this piece.
Mark had deliberately not decided on his registration for the Portsmouth pieces so he was able to discuss each one as the workshop progressed. He used quite a thin texture for Prelude on G.F. Handel by Michael Lawlor. The piece was written for a competition run by the Handel House Museum so Michael had based it on the letters in the name of Handel; he also used his polyoctave modes which we have heard before in some of his music. The result was a light piece with sweet consonances.
Alun Graftons Choral Prelude on Aberystwyth was a slightly more brooding piece. The slow and sombre start gradually builds revealing the hymn tunes as it grows. Mark was able to use increasingly heavy registration to build to a climax, and then the piece resolves to a soft major chord.
Mark then discussed the technique of improvisation. The best piece of advice was if you make a mistake, do it again then people will think it was deliberate. He then ended the session with an impressive improvisation on the tune Adoro te devote. Everyone was left amazed at how such an incredible piece could have just been improvised on the spot and it certainly showed the range of textures available on St Marys organ.
Composers from several regions, including Brighton, Bristol and Leicester and the CEO of BASCA had travelled down for the afternoon; Marks workshop certainly made their journey worthwhile.
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PDCA 20th Anniversary Concert
Saturday 27 June 2009
All Saints Church, Steep
A good sized crowd gathered at Steep Parish Church to relive the first PDCA concert which took place there in June 1989. Three of the pieces during the evening were repeated from the original concert; A Private by Paul Pilott, A Collection of Birds by Philip Drew and The Trumpet, while several others were newly composed for this concert.
The evening opened with Philip Drews A Collection of Birds sung by the composer, with Catherine Nicholson, flute, Kate Redwood, cello and Karen Kingsley, piano. The pieces reflected the atmosphere outside the church, a warm summer evening in an idyllic Hampshire village. Pewit calls with pentatonic overtones and the owl with a darker feel over a walking bass. In the evocative Adlestrop you can hear the train passing as the song rises to a climax.
Next was a group of songs by Amanda Jane Fox, Like the Touch of Rain, Over the Hills and The Dark Forest, sung by the composer with Valentina Seferinova on piano. Amandas style is in a more popular vein owing much to West End musicals and Amanda performance added real authenticity.
The music was interspersed with a number of Edward Thomas poems expertly read by Tony Hazell. They reflected the breadth of Thomas output covering all aspects of life from home to love, friendship and the Great War all wrapped in an English idyll.
The readings were followed by two songs by Paul Pilott, Snow and The Private, sung by Sylvia Lock accompanied by the composer. The still chords of Snow gave the feel of the chill, white landscape, while the voice weaves the poem over them. Ive heard the piece several times now and like it more each time. The Private emphasises the whole tone scale and is quite dark, even when it builds to a climax.
The two Hardy songs by Philip Drew were sung by Marlene Purdy and accompanied by Philip. Both songs were not surprisingly dark and gloom (She at his funeral and His immortality) and both made effective use of suspensions.
After further readings was The Trumpet by David Penri-Evans. This was expertly performed by Philip Drew who gave the first performance twenty years ago, Karen Kingsley, and Sam Moffatt, trumpet. The whole piece grows out of a single repeated chord in the piano. Several people who know my music commented on how it was typical of my style.
Child in the Orchard by Paul Pilott was performed by pupils from Steep Primary School conducted by Sylvia Lock. It has the feeling of a childs nursery rhyme with a strange turn at the end of each chorus. It has a decorative right hand in the piano over a simple left hand.
There was another set of readings before the final piece of the evening, Tall Nettles by Michael Lawlor. This was well performed by a group of students from Peter Symonds College, Winchester. The piece made good use of the voice and is particularly well written for string quartet with interesting lines for the viola.
The whole evening was very successful, with beautiful weather in the English countryside; a most apt way to celebrate our twentieth anniversary.
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Choral and Organ Music of the 20th & 21st Centuries
14 November 2009, St Marys Church, Alverstoke
The evening opened with a rousing Fanfare by Kenneth Leighton played by Philip Drew that set the tone of the evening. Wyndcliffe Voices then swung into action with Brittens Jubilate Deo in C. With a couple of pieces by established composers in our ears we were able to venture into less well known territory.
Now Welcome Summer by Alun Grafton is an effective motet to words by Chaucer. It has a unison opening and develops some unaccompanied sections. It has a 6/8 lilt to it driven by the piano accompaniment and builds to a final cheer of Welcome! This was followed by Geoff Dales setting of Shakespeare's Sonnet No. 12. The subject is the ticking of the clock and this is well established in the music with syncopated melodies set against the ticks. This is well handled and good contrast is given by more static homophonic sections.
The choir was given a rest while Paul Pilott performed the second movement of Hindemiths Organ Sonata No 1. This slow movement opens very peacefully and gradually moves into a section with more contrapuntal activity. The movement ends with a return to the serenity of the opening.
The Wyndcliffe Voices return to perform the Sanctus and Benedictus from Philip Drews Missa Sancti Mattaei Apostoli. The choir were very confident in the triumphant Sanctus with slightly dissonant modal harmonies. The first section sets up a good contrast with the Benedictus sung by two voices (Jane Hoskins and Julia Spurgeon this evening). And inevitably the piece rounds off with a brief restatement of the Osana from the Sanctus.
Next we had the Agnus Dei from Rubbras Missa in Honorem Sancti Dominici. This is a blissful setting of the text and again Wyndcliffe handled it well. They moved on to Stravinskys Pater Nosteralways a harmonic surprise from this composer as one would expect something far more dissonant, but here Stravinsky has returned to his Orthodox roots resulting in a very moving motet.
The first half drew to a close with Et incarnatus est by the late Danny Knott. It is always a pleasure to hear Dannys music being performed, and Wyndcliffe Voices did him proud as they did all the other composers of the evening.
Paul Pilott opened the second half on the organ with Saraband (In modo eligaico) by Herbert Howells. The piece begins very softly and gradually builds in volume and intensity to the climatic C major chord at the end. The work is a good display piece for the organ at St Marys which Paul demonstrated well. Wyndcliffe Voices picked up with some more Howells, the Magnificat from his Evening Service in B minor. This is a piece the choir knows well and their performance was secure.
The Howells was followed by Holy is the Lord by David Penri-Evans (me). This is a minimalistic introit for double choir gradually building in intensity. The choir did an excellent job and gave a very effective performance. While I cant comment on the quality of the piece, I can say that the performance was one of the best Ive heard. This was followed by Phillip Pennington Harris Tu es Petrus. With tinges of Tavener this piece gives the listener goose bumps. Phillips music is always able to transport you to a higher dimension. This is also the effect of the next piece; Philip Drews Halo, for organ and played by Philip himself. The piece builds on the overtone series and while one could say that nothing happens it seems to contain the whole universe. It is a piece of meditation that takes you out to the farthest stars. Its one of those pieces you dont want it to stop.
Paul Pilotts A Litany for Candlemass works well with two singers singing antiphonally (Sylvia Locke and Marlene Purdy). The free flow of the soloists contrasts well with the choirs homophonic setting of Ave Maria. Michael Lawlors War of Nature was the most challenging of the evening, both for the choir and the audience. The text is taken from Charles Darwin and the music quotes motifs from Josquin and Lassus. The complex melodic and harmonic material is treated antiphonally, passed around the double choir giving special effects. The ending was especially effective
The evening was brought to a close with John Jouberts O Lorde, the maker of al thing. Using words by Henry VIII this anthem slowly builds to a climax before quickly dying away to a quiet end. Again another confident performance by the Wyndcliffe Singers. Indeed the whole evening was a triumph, with the choir singing well, conducted by Philip Drew and Paul Pilott on the organ. There was a challenging range of music that the choir had learnt well and they gave moving musical performances throughout.
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Portsmouth Music Club concert
Portsmouth Grammar School, 12 June 2010
Stephen and Teresa Foster, piano duet
World Cup Fever was in full swing as I walked from Portsmouth & Southsea station to PGS: England flags were draped from buildings and raucous fans were spilling noisily out of the various hostelries along the way. Luckily the combined forces of the PDCA and Portsmouth Music Club had ensured there was a cultural balance in the city that evening, as the piano duet concert given by Stephen and Teresa Foster was scheduled to kick off at exactly the same time as England faced the USA in their opening match of the tournament. The spectators at the Rotunda were smaller in number than Englands fan base, but surely no less attentive and involved in the proceedings they had come to witness.
Stephen and Teresa provided a delightful recital, with fine, sensitive musicianship evident throughout, along with the effortless and sophisticated control of balance, tone and touch necessary for performers in this medium. The programme interspersed pieces by PDCA composers with a pot-pourri of Romantic dances and, by way of a chronological bridge, the famous Petite Suite by Debussy. The dances highlighted not only the sparkling elegance and grace, but also the stylistic variety, of three giants of Romantic music Brahms, Dvorak and Grieg. While Brahms satisfied with High German (yet lyrical) romanticism, Dvorak and Grieg sparkled with folksy nationalism. Personally, I was particularly taken with the first of the Norwegian Dances (Op. 34) by Grieg, which, with its extraordinarily dark, chromatic colours and forceful rhythms, sounded almost as contemporary as the four PDCA pieces.
These fascinated me, not only for their individual distinctiveness but also for their (surprising) similarities it seems that more than one PDCA composer enjoys working with a combination of broadly minimalist, modal and/or liturgical ideas. Maybe, over the years, a quintessentially Portsmouth style has, no doubt subconsciously, developed not unlike that of Les Six, or the Mighty Handful?
The first PDCA piece on the programme was Paul Pilotts Prologue, Chorale and Epilogue: a tripartite structure which takes as its starting point the famous text from the Gospel of John: I am the bread of life The Prologue begins with a chorale-like texture which dissolves into florid rising arpeggios: in the Chorale these ideas are developed and juxtaposed, flowing triplets set against four-part chords which, due to the liberal use of parallel 7ths, instil a refreshingly dry, even harsh tone into the generally modal, at times static harmonic language. The Epilogue picks up on the material from the Prologue to create a satisfyingly palindromic form overall.
Memo to Mike by Martin Read demonstrated characteristics which I have come to associate with this composer: a penchant for quasi-minimalist repeated refrains, unashamedly melodic content, and wit (Stephen Foster commented on the use of directions such as a little mad and very mad in the score). The piece started slowly and quietly, in the manner of a chaconne, but gradually increased in texture and dynamic to produce some harmonically adventurous and climactic passages which were all the more forceful for being abruptly contrasted with the slower, quieter material.
Michael Lawlors Resonances on Ut queant laxis combined the most ancient musical starting point on the programme the plainsong referenced in the title, a hymn to St John with the most strikingly contemporary techniques. As a prelude to the performance, Philip Drew led selected audience members in an impromptu vocal realisation of the original plainsong something which the composers score identifies as a possible way of starting the piece in performance. There was extensive use of sympathetic resonance, where some keys are depressed silently in order to catch the vibrations of those which are played conventionally, and towards the end one of the performers was directed to strike the strings directly inside the body of the instrument. The harmonic and gestural language was often dense and opaque, and the sound world colourful and arresting, but the relationship to the plainsong stimulus was audibly clear.
The recital ended with an encore the only solo work on the programme, Alun Graftons Prelude No. 3 Op. 45, which the composer explained was originally conceived as a lively and flashy piece, but ended up gentle and lyrical in mood. Cast in a rocking 3/4 metre, the Prelude was calm and understated in tone, with a modal harmonic basis and a sinewy, cantabile right hand melody, finishing with quiet, simple chords. A beautiful, atmospheric piece.
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27 November 2010, St Marys Church, Alverstoke
It was a cold and chilly night when we gathered at St Marys for a programme of PDCA music.
The evening started off with Nick Ray playing his Recollections Nos. 1-6. A collection of piano pieces dedicated to Tom Hain. No 1 (Some bells), lived up to its title, immediately evoking the sound of bells. No 2 (Dartmoor Aug 2005) was very evocative suggesting the expansive landscape of its title. No 3 had little snippets of melody flitting about, while No 4 (Fanfare for the Uncommon Man) had majestic 4ths with nods to Copland. Nos 5 and 6 were very complex and took some playing.
As a good contrast Paul Pilott played his Organ Choral Prelude on Airs of Grace 104. The piece started very quietly and developed into a flowing figure which bubbles over the chorale on the great, while the melody is played in augmentation on the pedals. The piece then settles down to conclude quietly.
We were then given Anthony Greens Mull of Oa on the piano. The tonal language use is very complex and there is a constant feeling of expanding and contracting: rhythmically more or less active and moving from extreme complexity to less and back. There was effective use of pizzicato inside the piano, but the music stand got in the way a little. This was followed by Anthonys Cranstackie which a mountain in Scotland in stormy, rainy weather.
The short concert concluded with two choral pieces by Philip Drew. The Lesser Litany from Preces and Responses 2nd setting (1994) is very flowing with a 6/8 feel. Generally modal language with nice little twists. The Lamb is a little reminiscent of Leighton and Mathias with open 5ths, compound time and hints of the medieval. It is an effective setting of a well-known text and works very well.
We all gathered in the vestry for a glass of wine and thanked all the performers for their good work.
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PDCA Robert Blanken & Karen Kingsley - Clarinet & Piano Recital
9 April 2011, Portsmouth Grammar School
It was great delight that for this years concert for the Portsmouth Music Club we were able to arrange for Rob Blanken (clarinet) and Karen Kingsley (piano) to be our performers. They drew together a programme PDCA music that they have performed before along with some by other composers. The concert opened with Philip Drews Prelude, Air and Ground. The Prelude is contrapuntal and has the feel of British modern music. The Air has a very spacious opening with notes slowly ascending. A legato clarinet line floats on an undulating piano part. It gently builds to a climax and the end of the movement mirrors the opening with long notes gradually descending. The Ground is stated in the left hand of the piano and the clarinet joins in. There is a series of variations of increasing complexity including some quartal harmony, bring the work to a stately close.
Next Rob and Karen reprised a set of five pieces written for the SSFV Festival of 2006 (Sixty Second Film and Video): Black and String Inverter by David Penri-Evans, Silence Says Another Silent Minute by Geoffrey Dale, Nelsons Voyage by Judith Bailey and Small Plastic Soldier also by David Penri-Evans. Originally each piece was written to be played along with a sixty second film clip. Black has a slow, calm choral in the piano while the clarinet throws in wild melodic fragments. String Inverter has a long repeated chord in piano while the clarinet has a free melody playing around with intervals from the chord. Silence Says is music for a stately parade, while Nelsons Voyage has a lilting, wide ranging clarinet line in triple time. The set closed with Small Plastic Soldier reminding us of the bringer of war with a miniature march in 5/4. The pieces were well chosen and made sense as a set.
The Ostinato of Michael Lawlors Cinque Pezzi opens in the left hand of the piano, slow and low, then the right hand comes in and finally the clarinet joins. Initially there are hints of the pentatonic scale, but as with many of Michaels pieces the scales become more complex as the pitch rises. The clarinet adds melismatic counterpoint until the movement returns to a quiet end. Selvaggio is much faster with a very active piano part. The tempo and rhythmic activity builds then suddenly slows. The activity builds again for the final section. Fuoco is rhythmically busy and mainly in 5. It has quite a jazzy feel to it bringing the set to a satisfactory close.
Next Karen and Rob moved us away from the 21st century and the PDCA to the more established composers. Air and Variation by William Lloyd Webber was quite a change with a much more romantic feel. As suggested by the title, the main theme was presented followed by a set of variations that went through a variety of moods, but all in a pleasant land with never a cloud in the sky. This proved to be a pleasant sorbet to cleanse the palate.
The first half of the concert ended with Milhauds Sonatine Op 100. This challenging piece really gave the performers a chance to show their brilliance. The piece is bitonal throughout, with the sound of Paris crossing Stravinsky with Montmatre. The second movement Lent is lyrical with a triple sway, even in its darker moments. The concluding Trés rude has an explosive start and is generally riotous with various cross rhythms deftly handled by our duo.
The second half of the evening opened with an odd pair of pieces by Ruth Gipps from the late 30s. Elephant God started off with a little surprise for the audience with Karen playing jungle drums off stage, the clarinet is then added playing with the minor pentatonic and augmented 2nds. While really well played, as a composition it was rather clichéd, a bit Carry on up the Jungle. Kelpie of Corrievreckan is programmatic music relaying a story. There is much use of pentatonic and lyrical swing and ends depicting the screams of the maiden as she drowns in the waves, but overall the music was not as dramatic as the story explained to us beforehand had suggested.
Georges Delerues Elegia is a piece that certainly does induce reverie. It opens with a slow rising line in the clarinet and is structured as a rising curve and returns to its slow introduction to end. The Variations on a Northern Chinese Folk Song by Zhang Wu was again a chance for Rob and Karen to show their colours, especially for Rob in the final fast variation. As a composition the piece did what it said on the tin, variations with considerable use of pentatonic scales. One half expected a group of Young Pioneers to come out and sing the praises of Mao.
Paul Pilotts Revasserie opens slow and dream-like, with soft quiet splodges in the piano and a legato clarinet notes with the phrase gradually getting longer. The piece becomes more anxious and tense, moving into a more rhythmic contrapuntal section. It then slows down and undoes itself mirroring the opening and fades away.
Solo clarinet lays out the quiet and wistful theme at the start of Bryan Kellys Capricorn Suite. The piano joins in for the first variation with driving rhythm. The second variation is slower and more reflective. The third is a quick rhythmic variation while the fourth is more stately with a high clarinet part. The final variation is slow and wistful like the opening with a flowing quaver accompaniment in the piano.
The final piece of the evening was Sholem-alekhem, rov Feidman! by Hungarian clarinettist Béla Kovács. Karen started things off playing tremolo chords on an electric keyboard imitating an accordion and the piece turns into an upbeat Yiddish song. This was thoroughly enjoyed by the audience. It looked at one point that some were going to get up and dance (Zimmer frames permitting). Rob played with panache as things got faster and faster. It brought a smile to every face and was a great end to the evening.
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PDCA Showcase Concert, 19th November 2011, Holy Spirit, Southsea, Portsmouth
The latest PDCA Showcase Concert took place in the beautiful surroundings of Holy Spirit Church, Southsea, and presented the audience with an inspiring range of contemporary music.
The evening began with Magnificat by Philip Drew, played by the composer on the organ. This is a gentle meditation in the style of a Prelude, based around the Tonus Peregrinus and makes colourful use of the organ, occupying a rich Howellsian sound-world, very well suited to the instrument and the building.
Anthony Greens Tarbert-Loch Lomond for solo piano followed, contrasting dramatically. This was played by the composer. Anthony Green here explores a landscape made up of a complex harmonic and rhythmic language. The music draws the listener into its own world: it is a world of great contrasts, fully exploring the pianos range, leading one through an eventful and exciting structure that seems to be constantly changing and evolving.
Following this we entered the calm, Satiesque world of Offering by Brian Wilshere, performed by Faye Clinton - cello - and Philip Drew - piano. The piano provides very much the backdrop for a long, sinuous cello melody that spans middle low and high registers.
Nick Rays Sonatina for piano followed, again contrasting with the Wilshere piece. The musical language is taut and intense, with a melodic element that becomes stronger through the piece, culminating in a large statement over chords where the harmony suddenly clarifies.
Two pieces by Alun Grafton followed, Prelude No.1, op.19 and Sinfonia Suite, op.6 with Chopins Prelude in B minor, op.28, No.6 in between. The composer sets the Prelude No.1 in a somewhat minimalist world, but one made up of shifting harmonies that always guarantee movement and interest. The Sinfonia Suite wanders deliberately in and out of conventional harmonic language, always surprising the listener, ending with a soft, wistful recollection high up.
Halo for organ by Philip Drew explored harmonic overtones, immersing the listener in a static but colourful exploration of the halo of sound that surrounds every note. The piece moves through several fundamentals and the overtones that the composer picks out with a delicacy that reveals how well he knows this instrument.
The calm, lyrical world of Brian Wilsheres Hymn followed. This is another long, meditative and expressive melody for cello, this time with organ. The pairing of organ and cello was an interesting and inspired one which worked very well in this piece with the organ having slow-moving chords supporting the florid melodic line of the cello.
Paul Pilott wrote his Advent Miniatures Nos. 1 & 2 for organ solo when the BBC was doing a broadcast from St Marys, Alverstoke. They were performed by the composer in tonights concert and are gentle reflections on O come, O come, Emmanuel, exploring a colourful sound-world well suited to the organ.
The Showcase Concert ended with Procella aevi primaevi by Michael Lawlor which was almost as much a visual as an aural piece. Michael Lawlor played oboe and percussion with Catherine Lawlor on piano and percussion and the moving between instruments gave the piece its strong visual element. It is a well-crafted and imaginative piece that depicts in music a primeval storm, painting a surreal landscape peppered with strange and exotic sounds, from overblowing and harmonics to extended piano techniques.
This was an amazingly rich evenings music-making. The standard of all the performances was excellent and it also proved to be an excellent and thoroughly enjoyable Showcase Concert of composers and their works from the Portsmouth District Composers Alliance.
Phillip Pennington Harris
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