Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Evelyn Glennie @ Wigmore Hall, London

22 June 2012

There can be no doubt about Evelyn Glennie’s musical expertise, nor about her passion for promoting and extending the percussion repertoire. But that cannot excuse the weak programming and kooky self-indulgence that marked this concert at the Wigmore Hall

The most absorbing works were those scored for traditional percussion instruments, and those which explored the instruments’ innate musicality rather than their potentially weird sound effects. John Psathas’s Drum Dance is written for drum kit and piano and is heavily influenced by jazz and rock music. The four dances trace the gradual bringing together of these two disparate instruments, from the chaotic first movement to the superbly synchronised fourth. Likewise, Nebojsa Jovan Zivkovic’s Quasi una sonata explores the piano’s percussive qualities against a battery of ‘real’ percussion — drums, xylophone, cymbals, gong and vibraphone. In handling the latter, Glennie showed her mastery of her craft, while long-time collaborator Philip Smith expertly managed the piano side of things.

The rest of the programme provided music of an instantly forgettable nature, or works that seemed conceived merely to amuse the audience. The ‘world première’ of Philip Sheppard’s Glass half full and Engine Block were, respectively, sound games on a wine glass and an improvised clanging on a xylophone made of old wrenches and spanners. The lengthier Prometheus Rapture by Sean Beeson consisted mostly of bangs and rattles on the snare drum with a plain, even kitsch-sounding, solo piano part. Glennie’s own vibraphone arrangements of Vivaldi’s Concerto in C for piccolo recorder and Piazzolla’s instrumental Libertango were strange oddities. The light, watery sound of the vibraphone was particularly unsuited to Vivaldi’s concerto.

Sheppard’s and Glennie’s joint piece for halo drum (a kind of inside-out steel pan drum), Orologeria Aureola, did at least provide a showcase for the possibilities of that particular instrument. But it seemed more like an extended improvisation than a through-composed work. Toshiro Mayuzumi’s Concertino for xylophone and piano and Christos Hatzis’s Eternity’s Heartbeat promised much in the programme notes, but delivered some of the shapeless, weird percussion clichés that Glennie avowedly seeks to dismiss.

There is a lot of very good percussion music around and a growing number of performing advocates — a visit to any of the major music colleges’ end-of-year concerts will show you that. By resting on her reputation and relying on the esoterically eclectic, Glennie risks losing her hard-won position at the forefront of percussion music-making.

Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org

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