MUSIC / Taste, not waste: Nicholas Williams on the 'Summer Solstice' at the Conway Hall

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The Independent Culture
THERE was food and wine at the second of the Chamber Music Company's three 'Summer Solstice' evenings at the Conway Hall on Saturday - but no druids. For the conservatively minded who scanned their programmes to see everything from Gorecki to gypsies appearing over the three weekends, this doubtless came as a relief. For others, the good news was that eating, drinking and listening could be safely combined in a single event.

There was also a bewildering variety of music. Eclecticism was the keyword, first Haydn piano trios played by the CMC ensemble; then, after a decent interval for refreshment, the main event: the same players in Robert Volkmann's Piano Trio, virtually unknown now, but Liszt's favourite piece of chamber music.

The work left mixed impressions in terms of formal coherence, but little doubt as to why it received Liszt's commendations. Cast in three movements linked in the best Lisztian tradition, it proposed three types of material: Schumannesque aerobics for the energetic finale; swooning Liebestraume-style melody for tender, 'feminine' statements; and a tense recitative that piled on the agony to create paragraphs of considerable suspense. Much of the time Volkmann substituted bathos for symphonic development, yet there were also isolated passages that stood out for sheer originality of sound - instruments widely spaced in hypnotic stretches of syncopated repetition. Though not the world's greatest piano trio, this is the greatest piano trio Liszt never wrote. Violinist Jagdish Mistry and cellist Matthew Barley smoothed over its inconsistencies with flair and dedication.

There was far less ambiguity about John Tavener's To a Child Dancing in the Wind, eight Yeats settings for soprano, flute, harp and viola dating from 1983. This simple yet exquisitely wrought cycle showed the composer's characteristic refrain forms working not only as pillars of contemplation but also stages in a psychological journey that mirrored the passage from innocence to experience in the text. Patricia Rozario's delicate voice was the ideal instrument for the rapt utterance of 'He wishes for the cloths of Heaven'. 'A Deep Sworn Vow' plumbed darker reaches of unrequited love, a pathos heightened for being accompanied by a phrase of stepwise triads that reappears, if memory serves, in the comparatively chaste surroundings of The Protecting Veil.

Finally, a pair of late-night improvisations: A Mirror to Khalida, developed by Peter Wiegold with the CMC Trio, and Eight Songs of Hope and Hopelessness by jazz vocalist Ian Shaw. Khalida added up to an impressive five-movement creation with a languid slow nocturne of dreamy, synthesiser vamping. True, at times harmonic patterns sounded a little too pre-planned. But there was a ferocious climax where Mistry and Barley fought to make themselves heard. In contrast, Shaw's spicy harmonies were apparently temptations of the moment, though, combined with his smoky cabaret text, no less rich for that. 'Cool music for warm evenings' is this festival's catch-phrase. But by midnight, as Shaw teamed up with Wiegold's group to jam, the mood had become decidedly hot.

The final 'Summer Solstice' evening is on Saturday at the Conway Hall, WC1, at 6.30pm (071-497 9977)

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