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April 8, 2014 5:20 pm
With its new interest in contemporary music, Wigmore Hall is presenting as many premieres in a month as it used to in an entire season. Over the weekend, “Focus on Colin Currie” invited the percussionist to a four-day residency, including a masterclass, a family concert and this recital of new, or nearly new, pieces (there is next to nothing for percussionists to play from the classical or romantic eras).
A short first half brought a selection of four wildly varied works played without a break, ranging from Elliott Carter’s Figment V, a playful set of variations for marimba written in 2009, to Toshio Hosokawa’s beguiling and atmospheric Reminiscence from 2002. As far as one could see, Currie played this virtuoso half-hour of music on instruments from tom-toms to south Asian temple blocks from memory.
The second half moved on to a trio of premieres. Of these, the most all-embracing was Dave Maric’s Sense and Innocence, in a new version, which employs an array of instruments (bowed crotales, vibraphone, cowbell, cymbals) and accompanying electronic background to create an atmospheric sound-world of multiple layers. Joseph Pereira’s Word of Mouth II for solo drums focused more intently on rhythm and texture. Rolf Wallin’s Realismos mágicos, a Wigmore co-commission, is a collection of 11 short stories recounted in the subtlest tones on the marimba, each highly poetic, though not easily adding up to a convincing whole. Currie’s virtuosity energised all and the young audience was hugely enthusiastic.
Earlier in the day, the Radio 3 lunchtime concert at the Wigmore was a major event, drawing the Emerson Quartet to play two works of the kind publishers like to call “modern classics”: Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 14 (1973) and Britten’s String Quartet No. 3 (1975). Programming works conceived at almost the same time by composers who were so close was an inspired choice and, as the Shostakovich often leads with the cello, it also served as an introduction to the group’s new cellist, Paul Watkins. The Britten, a valedictory piece from his dying years, might have invited softer colours, but both works were played to the Emerson Quartet’s high standard of control and expertise – not new music any longer, but still feeling as modern as when they were written.
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