Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Colin Currie/Nicolas Hodges @ Wigmore Hall, London

24 October 2008

Colin Currie/Nicolas Hodges@ Wigmore Hall, London, 24 October 2008

  Percussionst Colin Currie is a cool guy. It’s something that many classical musicians aspire to, with the help of agents, make-up experts and photographers, but Currie, although not at the most glamorous end of the business, seems, without trying, to exude an effortless sense of cool.

This, and his fine musicianship, makes him, like Evelyn Glennie before him, a great ambassador for his art. That’s not to take away from Nicolas Hodges, with whom he shared the platform on equal terms for this Wigmore Hall recital of contemporary works, combining piano and percussion. Each had their time to shine, whether in solo works or those selected because they allowed the two artists to play together. There must be a limited repertoire for this combination but there are a number of significant pieces, not least Harrison Birtwistle’s The Axe Manual of 2000, which ended the concert.

They began very much in harmony, with a piece by Joe Duddell where there’s virtually no dissension between soloists. Parallel Lines (named from the Blondie album) sees piano and percussion working in complete unison, disproving the belief that music has to be steeped in conflict to be interesting. There’s hardly any contradiction in the lines, as they weave together like Astaire and Rogers, only changing direction or tempo with the consent of the other.

Dave Maric’s Sense and Innocence (2002) saw Currie on stage alone but backed by an electronic soundtrack (surely an unusual event at Wigmore Hall), which he echoed, imitated and defied with a whole battery of instruments including vibraphone, crotales, marimba and cowbells. Solo yet not alone, it made for a fascinating blend.

Hodges’ solo turn before the interval was a selection of the final two movements from Birtwistle’s Harrison’s Clocks. The structure of them (the one a Trio, the other a Toccata) was echoed in Hodges’ later selection of Elliott Carter’s Two Thoughts about the Piano. The first piece in each case represents a broken line (in the Carter, Intermittences explores “the many meanings silences can express”) while the second is a long flow of notes.

Birtwistle’s Clock IV defies the expectation of a mechanistic regular beat (if this were a minimalist piece, we could expect a very steady unchanging pulse), despite the work’s intense evocation of John Harrison’s 18th Century timepieces. It is a broken irregular marking of time unlike the continuous dancing sound of Clock V which calls to mind a Debussy Tarantelle.

The second Carter piece was Catnaires, given its UK Premiere by Pierre-Laurent Aimard at this year’s First Night of the Proms and it was good to get a second chance to hear it so soon. Hodges tossed off the dazzling rush of notes with great aplomb.

This year has been a good one for Birtwistle in London, with the World Premiere of a major new stage work and not one but two revivals of his first opera Punch and Judy. The success of The Minotaur might have indicated that he is on the verge of becoming popular but this concert, with The Axe Manual as its main course, shows that he can still empty a hall, even one as compact as the Wigmore.

Mind you, I have to confess to finding this work one of his most inaccessible and difficult and had hoped that this performance would throw a switch for me. Sadly it didn’t and I’m still in the dark as to what this piece is about. Hodges and Currie performed with panache but it still sounded like a lot of ponging and banging, albeit with some interesting highlights and a powerful ending.

This varied programme was made up with a performance by Colin Currie of Louis Andriessen’s Woodpecker, a charming piece that, as the title implies, leaves you with ear-drums ringing and a feeling that some small thing has been relentlessly rapping at your head.


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