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Showing posts with label Britten Sinfonia Academy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Britten Sinfonia Academy. Show all posts

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

A musical Academy in Cambridge - other than the Academy of Ancient Music...

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

1 July (updated 4 July)

This review is of some highlights of Britten Sinfonia’s (@BrittenSinfonia’s) / Britten Sinfonia Academy’s lunchtime concert at West Road Concert Hall (@WestRoadCH), Cambridge, on Tuesday 1 July (At Lunch 5)

Strix, Philip Cashian’s difficult new piece for chamber orchestra, premiered at West Road Concert Hall in Cambridge this lunchtime, with five members of Britten Sinfonia supporting, encouraging and (in the person of violinist Alexandra Reid) directing the twenty-four-strong force of its Britten Sinfonia Academy : Cashian himself, briefly spoken to afterwards to thank him for his piece, thought that they had played it pretty well.

In rehearsal, at West Road, under Alexandra Reid's direction
(by kind permission of Britten Sinfonia)

One could soon see why it was paired, for a slightly smaller group, with the opening movement (Marche introduction) of Stravinsky’s Danses Concertantes (from 1942) : the Stravinsky had been played beautifully, in a lively and sometimes spiky way, and with a cheeky ending, and Cashian’s work, of around twelve minutes, started in its orchestrational and rhythmic spirit, with a prominent triangle-note that led quickly to a pizzicato section, and to the unbowed cellos and double-basses coming to the fore, an exciting sound against the background of their fellow strings.

The next section melded oboe, flute and clarinet, forging a cry that echoed the roots in a compositional workshop that Cashian had held with the Academy players in the modern gallery-space of Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum (@FitzMuseum_UK), and which had resulted in the young players’ responses to Graham Sutherland’s bird-based painting La Petite Afrique III (1955)*, whose writing Cashian took away and used in Strix : bassoonist Katherine Worster, in one of three interviews that Reid conducted with Academy instrumentalists during stage-movements, told us about how this process had worked, and how it had seemed strange to encounter what Cashian brought back to the group, after he had composed the piece away from them.

This cry, as it emerged, continued with the pizzicati lower strings, but with the intensifying use of syncopation, a prominent aspect of the piece, and one which placed demands not only on the players to keep count in bars of differing time-signature, but also on percussionist Tim Gunnell, who here, as at other times, had to provide a clear, regular beating : the feel was of the Stravinsky, who had been better known since Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) for his approach to rhythm and metre (a ballet that the programme-notes reference in relation to Walt Disney and Fantasia (1940)), and even of the jazz vibe that he used around this time**.

A pleasant nod in Igor’s direction, but the tock-tock that Gunnell then brought forth was taking us on, elsewhere – to the more irregular measures beloved of Sir Michael Tippett, with Claire Cormie now switched from flute to piccolo, and with the piano’s percussive quality ably laced into the mix by Alex Little (whose excellent technique had been evident earlier in an excerpt from Schubert’s famous Piano Quintet in A Major (D. 667)). With wood-blocks and high piccolo to the fore at the top of the sound, Little’s part shifted to a motivic role, with the rest of the ensemble delivering nicely jerky cross-rhythms, into which the angularity of bass-drum entered in.

The metrical nature of this composition, and of its emphasis on on the element of percussion, was by now evident. Cashian now, three times at least (but just for a fraction each time), gave us a momentary hiatus in the very impressive ensemble of professional and younger musicians : the percussive beating, which had returned, and the prominently and excellently played trombone (from Katherine Surridge), alongside Sinfonia’s Paul Archibald on muted trumpet, thrillingly halted, allowing us, perhaps, an unimpeded heartbeat.

Once more, triangle sounded, heralding a slowing – probably physiologically, as well as emotionally, for players and listeners alike… Again, we had Cormie’s flute, paired with Thomas Mullock on oboe, and with a feeling of suspension soon added by Little, and by Imogen Ridge (a Britten Sinfonia Academy Associate) on harp. Again, the sensation of a heart a-beating, before a transition to a different constellation of oboe, harp and trumpet. Maybe we sensed that we were nearly through, but the return of the pizzicato section, double-basses and cellos up front, clinched it : with a variation in the pattern of tones from the wood-blocks, the piece came to a sudden end.

And to very appreciative applause for this energetic and enlightening partnership, between older and newer, in an adventure in music !

Other highlights :

* Claire Cormie performing confidently centre stage as flute soloist, ringed by cellists, in Bachianas Brasileras No. 5, a well-worn path (comprising, in short sonata form, an Ária followed by a Dança) - not least as performed by Sir James Galway on his album Annie's Song (for which he made his own arrangement, for flute instead of soprano voice) - but sounding fresh, and with Caroline Dearnley's lead with the pizzicato (who is no doubt an inspiration to the seven younger cellists (not all playing full-size instruents as yet))

* Alexandra Reid's interview, both with Cormie, and with Joseph Cowie, who had just played double-bass in the extract from Schubert's unusually scored Piano Quintet (please see above) - it was a delight to hear Joe saying how playing a chamber piece had taught him that the visual cues between players are as important, if not more so, than what one hears one's fellow musicians doing : for the listener in the hall, watching that communication (be it nods to come in, or smiles at some lovely moment) is a valuable part of concert-going, just as seeing the bright joy that illuminates even, say, Dearnley's face (as a well-established member of the Sinfonia) at passages or turns of phrase that are clearly favourites (please see below)

In rehearsal, in advance of the concert at West Road
(by kind permission of Britten Sinfonia)

* A good choice of opener, the Coriolan Overture of Beethoven (Op. 62, from 1807) gave one the chance to observe Sinfonia and Academy players working together in solid repertoire as an ensemble - as well as hearing the piece not for massed forces or in the context of the all-too-frequent overture / concerto / symphony type of programme, but leading into some chamber pieces

* If any of the Academy's string-players were able to hear Britten Sinfonia's programme with Patricia Kopatchinskaja (as director and violin soloist, in Cambridge on 3 March 2014), they would have been able to feed into their gestation of Bartok's Romanian Folk Dances (from 1915) for this concert not only her 'unstraight' performance, but also her enthusiasm and passion for this music : needless to say, the suite was played with less of Kopatchinskaja's wildness, but movingly, with energy and delight (which one could see in Dearnley's smile), and with Reid's patent encouragement as director***

* Finally nailing that little tune, which marks the hours / divisions between segments of Radio 3's (@BBCRadio3's) Through the Night (and is only played marginally more frequently than Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2 In F Minor (Op. 21) (which one can reckon on hearing, during this sequence of broadcasting only, at least once per week !)), as the opening of the last movement, the Madrigal - Nocturne, from Darius Milhaud's suite of film music (along with that of Honegger and Désormières) for La cheminée du roi René**** (1939)


* With a strong resonance in Francis Bacon’s architectural approach to, in particular, his later work.

** As exemplified by his Tango, for solo piano, from 1940 (or, more simmeringly, in his Ebony Concerto, written for clarinettist / band-leader Benny Goodman in 1945).

*** It may be scored so, rather than being Reid's doing, but one could several times see three other violinists near her taking a phrase in turn, after her lead, in the solo part.

**** Which the programme-note translates, as if unambiguously, as 'chimney', although the word means 'fireplace', when used within a property...

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)