REVIEW / Stringing them out: Robert Maycock at London recitals for traditional sitar and modern piano

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Between the two Chinese nights at the Asian Music Circuit's 'Celebration of Music for Plucked Instruments', an Indian session - and the best young sitar player in India, as the presenter called him. Well, they say that about everybody. Budhaditya Mukerjee turned out a lively musician with the essential gift of becoming more interesting as the evening went on.

This is music that has grown up under the shadow of the microphone. At the Purcell Room, where a sitar can carry perfectly well, the amplification gave Mukerjee a powerful, metallic tone like a Fender electric guitar. The high volume at least made sense for Mukerjee's spectacular way with ornaments, bending a sustained note into long, curling lines of sound: the effect was more decorative than emotional, but brilliant all the same.

For faster compositions, the tension wound up rapidly, urged on by the frantic, military tabla playing of Parasarthy Mukerjee. At speed, virtuoso technique fused with real imagination, at least when Budhaditya Mukerjee played to his strengths: rapid repetitions, stretched into oscillations and then into boldly articulated sweeps, and the breathtaking diminuendo on a fast ascent.

What the playing didn't do was to build its intensity gradually and surely. But there were subtler variants in the second half, and best of all was the short final improvisation on a more brooding, introverted mode, which revealed a sense of delicacy and melodic feeling.

Next day the Wigmore Hall celebrated hammered strings with a blockbuster from Andrew Ball. A familiar and indispensable presence on the new music scene, Ball this time stormed the heights in a programme that had Bach and Liszt as its linking threads and built up, through ingenious cross-references, to the intellectual and pianistic peaks of Busoni's Fantasia contrappuntistica and Liszt's Fantasia and Fugue on the notes B-A-C-H.

Few would take on such a bout of high concentration and physical energy; fewer could bring it off. Ball has the technique and stamina, and for Liszt he produced the flamboyance. Above all, he is a thinker-pianist. His UK premiere of Hommage a Franz Liszt, by York Holler, had the clarity, feeling and sense of direction that come from working out the piece's nature in depth. The degree of care gave listeners a further dimension of understanding. I didn't think they made recitals like this any more.