Sunday, 14 March 2010

Guildhall Concert with Double Pianos

Last night LSO ST Luke's hosted a mixed programme of unusual pieces, including two commissions. Clearly the evening's main draw was Stravinsky's Les Noces and, with the necessary four pianos (two Pleyel double pianos on this occasion, no less) dominating the performing area, the rest of the programme had been tailored to suit.

Someone with good sense had clearly made themselves heard in suggesting that, under the circumstances, new music could be commissioned from composition students. First of these was Alasdair Putt's Cascabelda, a term embracing not only the orchestration but also the subject matter of the Stravinsky to come. This was an excellent opening to the programme, succinct, bright and diaphanous music full of allusion and impression. I would have liked to have heard the piece again having accustomed myself to the timbral world of available orchestration - however, part of the appeal seemed to be in its mercurial character and finite span, the glitter of the sound rendered brilliant in memory rather than in repetition.

Bernstsein's Chichester Psalms was the first repertory makeweight of the concert. With the chorus under-rehearsed, there seemed little composure in the unpacking of the melody, dispatched with a mechanical lack of interest. Daniel Keating-Roberts did a competent job of psalm 23, although this first genuine solo spot did bring up the questionable decision to place the soloists behind the line of the pianos, quite a way back from the audience.

The second of the two commissions of the evening was Jonathan Pontier Domestic Scenes. Pontier used all the available forces, with the chorus as an effective backdrop of tidal sprechstimme. The soloists, again placed just in front of the chorus, were barely audible - much of their role was spoken too and it didn't give them enough with which to project. I'm afraid that much of what appeared to be either wit or melodrama was lost.

After the interval, a suite of music for the double pianos, Milhaud's Paris op.284. The exchanges between the pianos were well-handled (ensemble is always tricky for such a collective). The music is all things French - brief, occasionally sentimental - and Milhaud - bitonal, dynamic and showy.

Finally the Les Noces, which I feared would be a bit rough given the foursquare Bernstein earlier. Not a bit of it though. This was a robust outing for this cantata-after-the-Rite-of-Spring, with the high soloists (Particularly tenor Edward Lee) really cutting through the texture, overcoming the balancing hazards of the staging. A super flourish to crown a thoroughly engaging concert.

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