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Veronique Gens

his instrument in Beethovens Violin Concerto, albeit at times that his intonation wasnt quite as spot on as his obvious musicality. STEWART COLLINS London Festival of American Music he final concert, And Beyond, in the second London Festival of American Music, in celebration of John Harbisons 70th birthday, was held at the Warehouse, Waterloo on 13 October, given by the Lontano ensemble under the direction of Odaline de la Martinez. The seven works in the programme were all very much of a muchness, dominated as it was by contemporary American academic figures who as a representative body seemed all too ready to take the attractive, but in creative terms, too easy option of a post-minimalist basis allied to pretty constant rhythmic fixations. Harmonic and melodic interests were virtually absent. There were two works by Peter Child, who was present, the first a cycle of Songs of Bidpai, for soprano and small instrumental group, settings of poetry by the modern Arabian poet Mohammed al-Faituri. These were outstandingly well sung by Olivia Robinson, but, in their rather anonymous wordsetting, the songs relied too much on derivations of a soaring

initial phrase by the soloist. Barbara Jazwinskis Visions for solo clarinet, brilliantly played by Andrew Sparling, revealed itself as a work of so many aphoristic effects by the yard, the only genuine piece of musical interest in the score being the unheard, but cleverly implied, notes in the final phrases. James Primoschs Fantasy-Variations for piano trio proved to be another collection of modernist clichs, the instruments being neither integrated nor pitted one or two against the other(s); such invention as the work possesses could have entered the mind of any reasonably competent American composer, with many half-remembered ideas from middle-period Aaron Copland reflected as if in a distorting mirror. Patricio da Silvas Clarinet Quintet was quite another matter; here is a genuine creative voice, his work being full of interest and beguiling invention. Ones sole criticism of this circa 12-minute piece is that the string quartet was kept hard at it, with very little textural variety, although the frequent pattern-like rhythmic interests were fascinating. The writing for Patricio clarinet was excellent, and da Silva the composer was present to acknowledge the prolonged applause.

Peter Childs Promenade for instrumental septet chugged along in catchy rhythmic fashion, but the ideas were deeply unoriginal, stemming from an amalgam of Paris-New York-Chicago fragments of the 1920s. Odaline de la Martinezs own Cantos de Amor for soprano and ensemble were characterised by many beguiling vocal phrases, yet in terms of compositional skill, the constant repetition of a lyrical phrase, followed by that of another, soon palled upon the ear. Finally, Steven Mackeys Indigenous Instruments for (part-prepared) piano, violins (one player, one scordatura), flutes and clarinet was easily the worst piece in the programme. It fell into three sections manic, depressive, manic before petering out after saying nothing musical at all, and saying it in a boringly offensive manner. The performances throughout were all quite superb, or certainly seemed to be, but the overall impression was rather depressing; only Patricio da Silvas piece demonstrated the stylistic consistency of a composer who has something to say, certain of his own direction. Quite why the BBC allowed itself to get involved in this event is hard to fathom; I doubt if many works in the programme would have passed the old reading panel. At the very least, the concert was not broadcast nor did it deserve to be. ROBERT MATTHEW-WALKER

Vronique Gens at Wigmore Hall

he French soprano Vronique Gens, who has in recent years built up a solid reputation in Baroque repertoire and Mozart opera, revealed the true Gallic side of her musical talent at an all-French lunchtime concert at the Wigmore Hall on 13 October, delivering intense performances of vocal settings by Berlioz, Debussy and Offenbach. Whilst Les Nuits dEt an attempt to launch the German concept of the lieder cycle in France in the 1840s echoes Berliozs beloved Shakespeares Midsummer Nights Dream in its title, the work is in fact a sequence of

songs of romantic longing based on six poems by Thophile Gautier. Gens, accompanied by Jeff Cohen in the original voice-and-piano version, brought out the subtlety, restraint and sheer pain of some of Berliozs most sublime music, her intelligent inflection of the language, sheer vocal and emotional range and varied register pointing up the nuances of the music. Rarely has destiny seemed so cruel and the sense of lost love and loneliness so poignant as in Genss dramatic rendering of the vibrant lament Sur les Lagunes: Ah sans amour, sen aller sur la mer. Debussys Ftes galantes, Nuit toiles and Fleur des bls three shimmering mosaics one with decidedly Spanish

rhythm written in the composers twenties (in the 1880s) his impressionist style already unmistakable were sung with utter sheen. Offenbach wrote a hundred songs and two of them based on La Fontaine Fables rounded off the concert with Gens relishing in the wit, charm and threatricality of the material and the glory of the language. As encores Gens (intriguingly) chose to sing little known versions of two of the Gautier poems in the Nuits dEt collection composed this time by Gounod and the great diva and muse Pauline Viardot; Gautier, Berlioz and Gounod were all members of the Viardot Circle. CHRISTOPHER FOLLETT


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