Music: Beating around the bush
New Music: RHYTHM STICKS; SOUTH BANK CENTRE, LONDON
Tuesday 27 July 1999
At Thursday night's Park Lane Group double bill, featuring Ensemble Bash and Django Bates, there was a stand-out solo recital by one of the most exciting of PLG's recent young artists, the Portuguese percussionist, Pedro Carneiro, which concluded with Iannis Xenakis's Rebonds, a challenging piece of avant-garde drama. Carneiro's finely played programme focused first on the side drum, in Eugene Novotney's "A Minute of News", then on the marimba, with three works. Though the predominance of a tuned instrument suggested that melody and counterpoint offer more potential than sheer rhythmic elan, coupled to timbral economy, none of this trio of marimba compositions - two of them, at least, by experienced composers, Keiko Abe and Joseph Schwantner - make as interesting use of this instrument's rich resources as Novotney's piece does of its more limited ones.
And only the Xenakis - deploying a wider range of instruments, but still confined to drums and woodblocks - demonstrates the consistently fascinating attention both to sounds themselves and their assembly into compelling musical structures that a performer of Carneiro's calibre really deserves.
Ensemble Bash also gave us some vibrant African music - including two quite riveting pieces by Paulinus Bozie - and Stephen Montague's Chew Chow chatterbox, a witty and entertaining dinner-party spoof.
Known as the Safri Duo, the Danish percussionists Martin Friis and Uffe Savery also left no doubt on Saturday as to their musical skills. A fairly astonishing performance of Steve Reich's Music for Pieces of Wood on woodblocks and large log drums managed only a fraction less of the split-second timing and vibrancy that you'd get from a crack ensemble (this piece was written for five players, not two). Andy Pape's "CaDance 42" has a genuinely minimalist edge and rigour to it, and Friis and Savery's own opener, "Reactions", had some lively cross-rhythms to get things off to a promising start.
Otherwise, to see both them and us through a long evening, the Safris relied more on the sheer razzmatazz of distorted amplification, distracting lighting and a whole Danish bacon factory's worth of hammy antics than on either their own musicianship or the substance of the compositions they select.
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