MUSIC / The problems of premature delivery: This week's musical survey takes in X-rated Debussy, a hall full of composers and critics, and a few whacks on the wild side

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What a cynical city London can be. Almost everyone to whom I've put the question, 'Why young musicians?' has given the same answer - because they're cheap. What about all those wonderful attributes of youthful creativity: freshness, adventurousness, energy, daring, irreverence, sexiness, and so forth? Back come the indulgent smiles. Yes, young performers can be all of those things. They can also be timid, frigid, shackled by ideas imposed by forceful teachers - or just plain immature.

Come to think of it, some people's critical faculties do seem to take a nose-dive when they are confronted with a platform full of eager, blooming young musicians. Listening and watching the London Philharmonic Youth Orchestra in Saturday's Queen Elizabeth Hall concert I too could have surrendered to that lofty 'didn't they do well' feeling. They did do well, very well - high individual technical standards, with a rounded quality to the sound. Beside any of the big London orchestras the LPYO's strings would have sounded relatively weak. But there was substance there, and feeling - you can't make a great deal of the slow movement of Shostakovich's First Cello Concerto without that. And while restraint is evidently not a concept that means a great deal to many young percussionists, the LPYO percussion resisted the urge to take over in Britten and Stravinsky.

The loveliness of some of the solo playing took me completely by surprise. Woodwind principals in particular shone out: bassoon and oboe in Stravinsky's Firebird, and a flute solo in Debussy's Prelude a l'Apres-midi d'un faune that was the stuff X-rateable dreams are made on. Surprising too - and rather gratifying - was the 23- year-old conductor Leon Gee's notably unballetic behaviour on the podium - not a hint of Bernstein. Watching him, and listening to those controlled performances, I would guess that Gee is a careful, particular rehearser. Admirable of course, but it can also be a bit of a damper on the spirit.

Different impressions from the first two evenings of the Park Lane Group's Young Artists Series. On Monday, to a capacity Purcell Room audience that seemed to be made up almost entirely of composers and critics, the 21- year-old Thomas Ades presented himself as a composer and pianist of outstanding and very natural talent. His Still Sorrowing for half-prepared piano was in many ways a very grown-up piece; delicately and unsensationally beautiful, and as far as I could tell, not a borrowed idea in the whole thing. He then devoted the same loving attention to solo works by Maw, Kurtag, Messiaen and Ruders - what a mixture, and with only half an hour to digest it before the Chione Oboe Trio heaped the table with James MacMillan, Jonathan Harvey, Joseph Landers, Edward McGuire and Elliott Carter. I seem to have been a bit premature last week in accusing the PLG of ghetto programming.

A recital of modernist guitar music sounds like penance to me. So a bouquet for Emanuele Segre, who played his short Carter-Donatoni-Maw programme so seductively that it felt even shorter than it was. After this came Tuesday's main event, a mixture of clarinet-piano and solo piano pieces. I was more than a little dispirited to find composers resorting to the same kind of gestures over and over again in the clarinet-piano pieces. One of these - the loud, stratospheric piano-cluster with high clarinet squawk, followed by fortissimo answer from the depths - ought to be placed under embargo for the next five years at least. There were new ideas and flavour, though: Diana Burrell's intense fanfare style in Bright Herald of the Morning, or the clarinet darting from high to low to give the impression of two different voices in Edward McGuire's Soundweft. The duo of pianist Sophia Rahman and clarinettist Robert Plane impressed, but for personality and shining excellence, the star goes to pianist Yael Hochenburg, coaxing all the Brahmsian warmth and Chopinesque delicacy she could from Maw's Persona IV, and shooting the rapids thrillingly in the first book of Ligeti's Etudes.

What about youthful irreverence? Only one example came my way, in Saturday's Ensemble Expose concert, also in the Purcell Room. Christopher Fox's Foreplay bears a dedication 'to the great Finnissy'. The sequence of Michael Finnissy-ish sounds that followed suggested that Fox's admiration for his maturer colleague might be - shall I say, not entirely unqualified? Other highlights of that evening had Julia Ryder charming fabulous sounds from her de-tuned cello in Xenakis's Nomos Alpha, and percussionist Richard Benjafield taking a whack on the wild side in the same composer's Rebonds - real music theatre there.

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