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  • Writer's pictureSteve Crowther

The Chimera Ensemble, Sir Jack Lyons Hall, 17 November

Updated: Dec 12, 2023


Gyögy Kurtág’s Játékok piano pieces formed the main part of this innovative programme, with pieces by Howard Skempton and Paige Halliwell threaded in-between the four groupings and closing with Michael Nyman.


This is the first time I have heard the Játékok live, and they were quite a revelation. The only real influence I could discern was certainly not Beethoven or indeed Bartok, but Webern. In truth they were utterly original. Each miniature beautifully crafted, each a portrait, a homage to his friends, fellow artistic travellers – Ligeti, Christian Wolff, a nod to Bach and, in the touching Hommage á Kurtág Márta, his wife with whom he played the piano duets. All four groups were played by different pianists: Brinsley Morrison, Sam Goodhead, Katie Laing and Imogen Weedon & Charlotte Brettell (duets from Book VIII). Their care, the quality of touch, the precision and understanding of these tiny, intricate, aphoristic gems was a delight; polished and professional. Játékok means games in Hungarian.


Indeed, Kurtág said: ‘The idea of composing Játékok was suggested by children playing spontaneously, children for whom the piano still means a toy.’ And this was what the performances created, that sense of innocent wonderment and discovery.


The Chimera Ensemble was conducted by John Stringer, always a good thing. His precision and quiet authority ensured refinement and clarity in the three dovetailed works. Howard Skempton’s Sirens (version 1 and versions 2 &3) came across like musical paintings, gentle landscapes of instrumental colour created by simple chords oscillating between the different instrumental groups.


Now I do like Howard’s music, and I like the guy himself. I also like that these pieces were written for CoMA, a contemporary music organisation whose aims and values I share. However, although the performances were genuinely relaxing and engaging, the experience for me at least, was a little underwhelming. Indeed, I initially thought the second Chimera contribution was also by Skempton (the lights being dimmed for, presumably, a performance enhanced experience also meant it was difficult to see the actual programme notes) and a more enjoyable one too; I’d actually written ‘that’s more like it Howard’ in my notes, only to discover it was a piece called Flux by Paige Halliwell. And a good one too. The Ensemble delivered its monolithic sound world to great effect where melodic shapes emerged, sometimes for their own sake and sometimes as part of a short musical conversation. Good performance, good piece.


And now to the Nyman, a composer whose music always gives me genuine foot-tapping, pulsating joy. I love the immediacy, intelligence and the physicality of his works. Not here though. Despite the remarkably disciplined six-piano performance, the velvety textures and quiet jazzy influences, this did not work for me. I found the piece and musical experience a spectacularly self-indulgent, utterly tedious waste of time. I’ll get my coat.


Steve Crowther


The review is published at charleshutchpress.co.uk 

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