Sciarrino; Dusapin; Fujikura; Hind; Messiaen; Eötvös

The Fidelio Trio

King's Place, 25 February 2009 3.5 stars

Fidelio TrioThe Ricordi publishing house celebrated its bicentenary in 2008, and to mark that occasion two recitals were organised in London, in addition to other similar events held around the world.

The first of these British ventures took place last November, and featured Ensemble Elision in a scintillating program of music from Ricordi composers old and new (read our review here). The second took place last night at the same venue, as part of their adventurous This is Tuesday series, this time featuring the Fidelio Trio, an Irish piano trio who specialise in precisely the sort of new music Ricordi gives such a strong platform to. Composers signed to the Universal Music publishing catalogues Ricordi, Durand and Salabert were the particular focus of the programme last night.

The concert began with Sciarrino's Piano Trio No. 1. It is a skittish, re-creative work that busies itself around the repetition and gradual transformation of certain figures, twilight glissandi of artificial harmonics in strings and sepulchral muted shapes on piano amongst them, in a web of interpenetrating gestures that describe a molten flow. Yet the work, despite its apparent hallmarking of its composer's aesthetic, communicates none of the ghostly otherness of some of his other pieces, nor the intricate dialectic of sounds with which they often persuade us. It is all a jumble, and to little purpose, and the Fidelio Trio did little to convince otherwise. The three were disjointed from each other, and lacked internal coherence in their own individual playing. The devilish piano swirls were given accurately enough by Mary Dullea, but the sound never gelled, never became that rarity Sciarrino's music so often is.

Dai Fujikura's moromoro, for piano, pre-recorded electronics and video, was created in collaboration with the artist Tomoya Yamaguchi, and features a largely abstract series of images in changing colour fields in dialogue with the music. The images were projected on a large screen behind the pianist (whose piano lid unfortunately obscured the bottom quarter of the images). Tension between music and image, between leader and follower, or between companions, seemed the matter of this piece. Sometimes the two strata would synchronise- thrusting chord along with thrusting image- but most often the two were at related tangents to the other. Good use was made of holographic electronic sounds and corresponding visual image, and mutually transformative interaction (but always cloaked) between piano and video enriched the latter stages. Dullea gave a strong performance, always sensitive to the rich colours and arresting dynamics of Fujikura's writing. The first half closed with Robin Michael on cello giving a mixed performance of Eötvös' Two Poems to Polly, for speaking cellist. Michael communicated all the lyrical and velvety charm of the extraordinary, and extraordinarily many-layered and mobile, writing for scordatura cello offered by the composer in this short piece on ancient Japanese court poetry. Yet his vocalisations, which by design should be at odds somewhat to the enigmatic string sounds, were just too workaday, too mundane, to be effective. They took one out of the magic he himself was creating at each instant with his liquid playing.

Pascal DusapinThe full trio returned in the second half to give a generally involving performance of Rolf Hind's THE THING IS. Built from a rather naïve rising melody at the start, this work revels in an extended sound world made out of prepared piano (heavy damping, and metallic resonance being the main effects), muted violin, and detuned cello. The momentum of the piece is largely gestural, with the opening melody returning and evolving through distant shapes. A high point is reached about three quarters of the way through, when the cello rhapsodises on the theme (in a wildly loose and expressive way), and the other two peel away in percussive, spectral leaps and thumps, delicately revealing nuance within sounds previously cast away without much thought. Despite some lack of refinements of line in the string writing, and consequent loss of fluency in the performance, the trio evoked well Hind's colourful ear, and his skill at controlling density and profile of sound.

Darragh Morgan on violin then joined Dullea for a strong, forceful performance of Messiaen's early Fantaisie. The full trio closed the celebration with a spellbinding reading of Pascal Dusapin's Trio Rombach. This work evokes an Eastern European sound world, yet it is a highly impure, acculturated world. Dusapin's incredibly confident handling of materials here mark out the music as clearly his own. The Eastern elements, which include concentration on minor second-rich modalities in the yearning first movement, on fragmented and flickering intimations of Baltic dance rhythms in the compacted thump chords of the lamenting second, and a sense of infinite return and unfulfilled longing in the finale, are grist to his mill of musical invention, where themes curl out like streams of water from a tap, colour is effortlessly designed and patterned in tiny increments, and emotion is painted in broad, momentous strokes. The Fidelio Trio responded with alacrity to every intricate gesture, and wrought with distinction each shimmer of distant correspondence and subtle detail that Dusapin had woven into his simultaneously demotic and difficult score. It was a strong close to a somewhat patchy evening.

By Stephen Graham

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Concert review: Vocal artists celebrate Sub Rosa for This is Tuesday
CD review: Sciarrino orchestral works on Kairos