LABELS: EMI Debut
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Striking a Balance
WORKS: Contemporary percussion music by Corea, Ichiyanagi, Emslie, Halt, Reich, Rosauro,
PERFORMER: Colin Currie (percussion), Sam Walton (marimba), Robin Michael (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDZ 5 72267 2
These six recordings are the second instalment in EMI’s laudable ‘Debut’ series, initiated with success last year. The aim, each CD booklet declares, is to focus ‘on artists on the brink of potentially major careers, allowing them to take full advantage of the standards of expertise set by Abbey Road Studios’. Abbey Road should be taken as a guiding spirit as most of the recordings were made elsewhere. And the term ‘debut’ itself is not to be taken literally either, as many of those featured have recorded before. But what does distinguish (almost) all these recordings is a display of energy, inventiveness and sheer natural musicality that has rarely been united on one record label.
Someone with a very bright future ahead of him is percussionist Colin Currie, a previous runner-up in the BBC’s Young Musicians competition. His disc encounters difficulties that must also bedevil ocarina virtuosi: one must either be an indefatigable arranger or take what repertoire one can get. Markus Halt’s Marimbasonic stands out as an idiomatic, cleverly constructed piece, but works such as Ney Rosauro’s Cenas Amerisdias (m which Currie plays several instruments at once), and Alan Emslie’s Hugh’s Chilled Red tor solo snare drum, are probably more effective on stage. But never mind: Currie has a rare gift, demonstrated here in wonderfully showy Bach and Ravel arrangements.
Composer and pianist Thomas Ades – blessed with ‘a dangerous amount of talent’, as Simon Rattle has said – is hardly on the brink of a major career: it is in full flight. Although still in his twenties, he has received an embarrassing amount of praise as well as residencies, music directorships, commissions and international performances. Any quibbles over his second appearance in a series entitled ‘Debut’ are rendered meaningless by some of the stunning music on the CD Living Toys. The eponymous opening work has already become a classic. Arresting from the first bar, it reveals a freshness of vision and a determinedly new perspective on the music of the past that characterise Ades’s work. The London Sinfonietta gives a thoroughly engaged performance that one cannot imagine being bettered.
The seven movements of Arcadiana – including an affectionate Elgar spoof called ‘O Albion’ – form a moving discourse on idylls of various illusory kinds, while the Sonata da cacc/a -imagined by Ades as ‘an ” hommage” to Debussy from Couperin’ – reaffirms the composer’s love of 18th-century music. The frail sonorities of the anthem Gefriolsae me round off a magnificent recording.
EMI’s criteria waver less forgivably with respect to Charles Daniels and David Miller, who here offer up a recital of songs and lute pieces by Dowland. Between them the pair have already produced 100 discs and in this one, their interpretations -worthy, serious, unexciting – bring insufficient surprise or variety to a repertoire which offers subtle pleasures at the best of times.
A duo with brighter prospects consists of French pianists Laurence Fromentin and Dominique Plancade. Their recital of some of the best-known French piano four-hands repertoire is a feast of refinement and delicacy. Technically assured, precise and patient, Fromentin and Plancade maintain a civilised dialogue that is capable, when necessary, of the expressive diversity of a symphony orchestra. Their Ma mere I’oye is wistful and nostalgic, Faure’s Dolly Suite fluid and exuberant, and in Bizet’s Jeux d’enfants they take one through all the moods of childhood from dreaminess to hysteria.
The French tradition is also represented by the eminent organist Naji Hakim, who, though born in Beirut, studied in France and succeeded Olivier Messiaen as organist at La Trinite in Paris, where these recordings were made. Hakim plays well, but those who feel that much organ music is bombastic or aims at a cheap mysticism will not be converted by this CD.
The Henschel Quartet with Patrick Dechorgnat confirm the project’s overall success. As with some earlier Debut CDs, the recording presents familiar music in a less familiar form – here Mozart’s own arrangements for string quartet and piano of the three piano concertos from 1782. The performances are spirited and life-affirming, youthful and unpretentious, not set on sniffing out every trace of the sublime, but simply revelling in joyful music-making.