mon 28/11/2022

Psappha, Hallé St Peter’s, Manchester review - pioneers of today’s music undaunted | reviews, news & interviews

Psappha, Hallé St Peter’s, Manchester review - pioneers of today’s music undaunted

Psappha, Hallé St Peter’s, Manchester review - pioneers of today’s music undaunted

Premieres and rewarding new experiences from champions of creativity

Psappha - Conrad Marshall (flutes), Dov Goldberg (clarinet), Benedict Holland (violin), Jennifer Langridge (cello) and Benjamin Powell (piano), with conductor Thomas Goff - perform Steven Mackey's Indigenous InstrumentsAdrian Lambert Photography

Manchester's champions of contemporary music, just stripped of support by Arts Council England, are undaunted and last night continued doing what they do best. A small ensemble of virtuoso players brought a large and appreciative audience at Hallé St Peter’s a set of four challenging pieces, with a world premiere and a UK premiere among them.

Challenging, because the music was all complex and in each case spoke a language of its own – but rewarding, too, because of the sense of exploration and the sheer ingenuity of the sounds being heard. Two of these were by young composers championed by Psappha, a testimony to the work the group has done for more than 30 years (both with and without ACE recognition).

Ostara, by Dani Howard, for clarinet, cello and piano (Dov Goldberg, Jennifer Langridge, Benjamin Powell), is a 12-minute, meditative piece (though it develops its moments of exhilaration and liveliness), beginning from the simplest elements such as held open strings, single-note repetitions and tremolos, and developing in intensity and – in the cello part in particular  real lyricism.

More Parlour Music, by Christian Drew, which was written with the help of Psappha’s own “Composing For …” project and received its world premiere, was for me one of the most interesting solo piano pieces I’ve heard for a long time. Perhaps because it’s a kind of study, in which an ornamented and embellished, neo-baroque melodic line is played against accompanying chords from a different era and style. Christian Drew said the result was “like Chopin on acid”, but by the time both elements were in the lower range of the keyboard the effect was also reminiscent of Brahms’s thick chording. There’s more to it than a two-element experiment, though, as the “accompaniment” at times becomes a melody element in itself and rhythmic structures are contrasted as if two different things are happening at once.

Psappha perform at Halle St Peter's It must be fiendish to perform, and, as the composer put it (of Psappha’s Benjamin Powell), “I don’t know how Ben plays it, but I’m very pleased that he does.”

Linda Catlin Smith’s half-hour piece for piano quartet, Dark Flower, received its UK premiere. Written in 2020, it’s often slow moving and dreamy, using slow, repeated string chords, piano arpeggios and chords that are rich and strange, wisps of melody, and held string unisons (often on harmonics) which must be extremely hard to get right but were achieved with ease. It has a melancholy harmonic language of its own, a wide range of expressive effects and instrumental textures, and some very beautiful moments. Executants (pictured above) were Benedict Holland (violin), Heather Wallington (viola), Jennifer Langridge (cello) and Benjamin Powell (piano).

To end the continuous programme, Psappha livened things up with the rather anarchic Indigenous Instruments, by Steven Mackey, allegedly representing (in his words) “folk music from a culture that doesn’t exist”. Make of that what you will: it has its weirder aspects, as the violin’s G string is tuned more than an octave down (resulting in some grunting, grumpy-sounding contributions to the general melée) and other instruments have to be modified from their normal playing state, too. It’s rhythmically very complex, and the line-up of Conrad Marshall (flutes), Dov Goldberg (clarinet), Benedict Holland (violin), Jennifer Langridge (cello) and Benjamin Powell (piano) was conducted by Thomas Goff.

By the time we arrived at the final jam session – much enjoyed, it seemed, by Langridge’s crazy pizzicato cello – everyone was having a joyous, near-celebratory, time. 

Rewarding, too, because of the sense of exploration and the sheer ingenuity of the sounds being heard

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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