Monday, 12 September 2016

Lively mix: we dip into the Kings Place Festival

This weekend (9-11 September 2016) the annual Kings Place Festival filled Kings Place with all manner of events from classical to jazz, world music, beer tastings and canal trips. We made two visits to sample what was on offer. On Saturday 10 September we caught Duo Bayanello, Cecilia Bignall (cello) and Iosif Purits (accordion), on the free Box Office Stage and then heard the Artea String Trio, Thomas Gould (violin), Benjamin Roskams (viola) and Ashok Klouda (cello) performing Dmitry Sitkovetsky's string trio arrangement of Bach's Goldberg Variations, whilst on Sunday 11 September we heard the choir Sansara in a mixed programme of Taverner, Tallis, White, Byrd, Stenhammer, Chesnokov, Rutter, Esenvalds, MacMillan, Raberg, Ben Parry and Galviani.
Kings Place Festival; Artea String Trio, Sansara, Duo Bayanello; Kings Place
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 10 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Bach on string trio, unaccompanied choral music and a cello & accordion duo, our two visits to Kings Place's lively festival

This weekend (9-11 September 2016) the annual Kings Place Festival filled Kings Place with all manner of events from classical to jazz, world music, beer tastings and canal trips. We made two visits to sample what was on offer. On Saturday 10 September we caught Duo Bayanello, Cecilia Bignall (cello) and Iosif Purits (accordion), on the free Box Office Stage and then heard the Artea String Trio, Thomas Gould (violin), Benjamin Roskams (viola) and Ashok Klouda (cello) performing Dmitry Sitkovetsky's string trio arrangement of Bach's Goldberg Variations, whilst on Sunday 11 September we heard the choir Sansara in a mixed programme of Taverner, Tallis, White, Byrd, Stenhammer, Chesnokov, Rutter, Esenvalds, MacMillan, Raberg, Ben Parry and Galviani.

Bach's Goldberg Variations, which he published in 1741, was written for two-manual harpsichord and consists of an aria and 30 variations, and was transcribed for string trio by Dmitry Sitkovetsky in 1984, inspired by Glenn Gould's performance of the work. It might seem unlikely to reduce the complexities of Bach's contrapuntal writing to just three instruments, and though Sitkovetsky goes some way from the original (and reduces the length to around 50 minutes by omitting repeats), the result is remarkably appealing. Particularly so, as the Artea String Trio's brought elegance and vitality to the music, giving a clear sense of engagement.


The members of the Artea String Trio (Thomas Gould, Benjamin Roskams and Ashok Klouda) are all members of the Artea Quartet, a group which formed in 2001 when the performers met at the Royal Academy of Music

From the opening of the Aria, I was struck by the sense of line, so though they played on modern instruments, there was a clarity and elegance to the music. What made the work striking was the way we could repeatedly enjoy the sheer complexity of Bach's contrapuntal writing, and marvel at the way lines fit together, all rendered with clarity by the players. But this was not some dry as dust exposition, instead they created a real sense of atmosphere and each variation had its own character. Sitkovetsky clearly relished the challenge and restriction of just three instruments, and there were many lovely moments of imaginative textures from the simplicity of just two instruments, to the Gigue where two parts are swapped between three players in a delightful way, to the Ouverture where nothing was lacking in grandeur. Each of the canons was rendered with a different character, so that we could both admire Bach's skill in creating them, and that of the players in bringing them alive. Some of the more complex rhythmic passages were clearly a challenge, but overall this was a performance full of real enjoyment and engagement.

Before the concert, we had caught Duo Bayanello on the free stage, so we were able to enjoy their imaginative programme whilst eating tea and cake! The combination of cello and accordion might not seem obvious, it is a highly popular one and most of their pieces were written for that combination. Ilkka Kuusisto's Hymns and Sally Beamish's Takes Two both took different imaginative views on creating a texture for the two instruments, whilst the Allegro from Bach's Sonata No. 3 in G minor, BWV 1029 for viola da gamba worked surprisingly well and provided and interesting modern slant on the work. Astor Piazzolla's Le Grand Tango was written for cello and piano (for Mstislav Rostropovich), but the arrangement seemed to fit well. Finally we heard another contemporary work written for cello and accordion, the third part of Rhythms of Doubt by the Polish composer Nikolai Majkusiak.

On Sunday, the young choir Sansara (which won the first prize in the London International A Cappella Choir Competition) gave a recital in Hall 2, with a mixture of ancient and modern works inspired by the idea of light. The choir numbers some 17 singers and was directed in turn by members of the choir, Jack Butterworth, Benjamin Cunningham and Tom Herring. Hall 2 is not idea for choral music, the acoustics are a little too dry and the singers had to work hard to compensate for the lack of aural bloom. The lighting was also somewhat harsh, the audience in darkness (so we could not read the words), the choir brightly lit which rather emphasised the fact that in the men, shoes had not been shined nor trousers pressed.

The singing was well worth listening to. O lux beata Trinitas by William Byrd (1543-1623) was at a rather steady tempo, though characterful but with rather a busy texture. Et Civitas by Marco Galviani (born 1994), a member of the choir, was tonal, based on the combination of lyrical cantilena with rich chords. Homophonic with excursions, the aleatoric moments seemed designed for a larger group, though overall it was quietly considered. William Blake's The Tyger set by Eric Raberg (born 1985), was stylish and confident, and showed an interesting compositional voice, not quite Baltic minimalism. Eric Esenalds (born 1977) combined a number of texts for his Northern Lights, opening with an evocative tenor solo setting a Lativian folk song, before moving into English narrative. As the drama developed (with the coming of the Northern Lights), I was very aware of the lack of poetry in the English text and the full scale descriptive passages did not quite live up to the promise of the lovely opening solo, which returned at the end. William Stenhammer (1871-1927) is still not a well known name in the UK, his September was a lovely, well-made part-song.

With Dum transisset Sabbatum I by John Taverner (1490-1545) we returned to the sacred, and here the choir brought a lovely sense of legato line and seamless blend to the piece. For Christe qui lux es et dies (IV) by Robert White (1538-1574), and O nata lux (1505-1585) the group reduced to a conductorless group of 10 to create a lovely dark texture with a finely floated soprano line in the White, though a couple of moments in the ensemble suggested that a conductor might have helped. Gladsome Light by Pavel Chesnokov (1877-1944) was sung by just upper voices, creating clear textured close harmony. Hymn to the Creator of Light by John Rutter (born 1945) was an ambitious choice as it is for double choir, and uses plenty of crunchy chords, but the placement of the harmony was impressive and the choir brought the piece off in an excellent performance. Flame by Ben Parry (1965) was perhaps more conventional, but it was written for a far larger group and I was unclear whether there were inaccuracies in ensemble, or whether passages were deliberately aleatoric. But the group responded well to an impressive technical challenge. Finally James MacMillan's lovely Lux aeterna.

The free stage on Sunday, whilst we were there, was devoted to jazz and more popular styles but this was marred by being over amplified and the volume had us scurrying for the exit rather than staying to enjoy the lively atmosphere of the festival.

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