MUSIC / Split second: Schubert on the South Bank; the torments of Ixion

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The Independent Culture
Accompanists are usually reviewed as an afterthought, unless they're Martha Argerich partnering Gidon Kremer. The Dutch bass-baritone Robert Holl acted like a gentleman at the Queen Elizabeth Hall last Friday and drew attention to his accompanist, Oleg Maisenberg, by giving him each half of the programme to open by himself. Though Maisenberg slid on and off stage with almost guilty self-effacement, he had the audience spellbound with the first two of Schubert's late Klavierstucke.

At first, Maisenberg's unpredictable and extreme contrasts of light and shade, his rhythmic freedom and flexible phrasing, seemed shocking. Yet with his technical elegance, they served a vision of a kind of private intensity that was extravagantly romantic, but utterly persuasive.

Holl has a penchant for Schubert's most serious and philosophical songs, and his recitals are sometimes rather solemn. Schwanengesang is by no means entirely solemn, but Holl was determined to wring the utmost meaning from each song, which made Der Atlas appropriately weighty but stretched In der Ferne beyond the limit of human endurance.

The partnership of Holl, with his stern vocal quality, and Maisenberg, so pliant and poetic, was odd, and only a split mind could register both at once. Yet because Maisenberg could accommodate Holl's more lugubrious tempi, the partnership worked, and where the pianist had briefly the limelight, as in the opening ripples of Die Stadt, there were some miraculous moments.

The American Richard Goode, a very different kind of pianist, played Schubert in the same hall on Tuesday. He paired the early A minor Sonata with the later one in A major, whose finale reshapes a tune from the earlier work. Andras Schiff played the same two sonatas at the Wigmore in January, but Goode could hardly have been further from Schiff's measured approach, playing Schubert as a revolutionary Romantic, allowing tempi to toss on the tide of emotion while clarity of articulation took a back seat.

Yet minor obscurities of rhythm seemed a small price to pay for such intensity of feeling. Goode's exertion sometimes seemed to thwart the piano's potential tone rather than liberate it, and his zealous manner may have contributed to a final feeling of exhaustion. No one could have called it a dull recital.

xion, Andrew Toovey's group, presented its spring collection at the Purcell Room last Sunday. The parade of 11 pieces by 10 composers lasted two-and-a-half hours, including interval, which was at least half-an-hour too long. A short early piece for solo voice by John Cage was an unnecessary makeweight; two pot- boilers by the group's conductor, Michael Finnissy, brought little news worth hearing. Douglas Cohen's Penetrating Stillness for cello and piano aimed, in the composer's own words, at 'the same sense of proportion and timelessness' as his earlier chamber works, which range from 45 minutes to two hours, so we were let off lightly with 10 minutes of vacancy.

But there were just enough good things to hold the concert together, notably a beautiful evocation of seasonal ennui in James Clapperton's Meditation in Wyntir for sextet; gentle, stepwise melodies intertwined in slow motion, half-frozen and crystalline. If the piece didn't seem distinctively enough landmarked for all of its 18 minutes, it was freshly imagined. The other good thing was a set of four short Rilke settings by Toovey himself - songs in which soprano and violin struck sparks off each other, and a strictly limited musical vocabulary was used to strong effect.

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