United Kingdom Michael Zev Gordon, Erik Satie, Hunter Coblentz, Piers Hellawell, Arnold Schoenberg: Fidelio Trio [Darrah Morgan (violin), Adi Tai (cello), Mary Dullea (piano)], Sinéad Morrissey (poet/reader), Cheltenham Music Festival, Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham, 15.7.2016. (RJ)
Michael Zev Gordon: In the Middle of Things
Erik Satie: La Piège de Méduse
Hunter Coblentz: Trio (2015) (premiere)
Piers Hellawell: Up by the Roots (2015)
Arnold Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht, Op 4 arr. by Eduard Steuermann
This interesting recital began with a work by Michael Zev Gordon who has been doing sterling service at the Festival already directing the Composers’ Academy for young composers. Referring to a literary device it plunges straight into the action with no need for an introduction and performs many twists and turns along the way. The first idea is interrupted by crashing chords on the piano introducing a lament which is followed by meditative interlude and a yearning theme introduced on the cello. An outburst of frenzy is eventually displaced by a slow sad melody with the piano providing a bell-like accompaniment. This was a well crafted piece which would serve as a good model for any young composer to follow
The Satie theme of the Festival continues with the incidental music he wrote for this play La Piège de Méduse, short and typically quirky pieces including a march and skittish waltz which lightened the mood of the evening.
Hunter Coblentz is no stranger to piano trios, having performed in one with his sisters as a child in Canada. Tonight’s premiere of Trio proved to be somewhat enigmatic on its first hearing, its musical phrases metered using conventional time signatures and unmetered as the three players cued one another in temporal space. While the Fidelio Trio gave the work a convincing performance, I feel I would need to hear it a second time in order to pass judgement on it.
Hellawell’s Up by the Roots incorporates three poems by Sinéad Morrissey on the theme of “Beyond the Borders” in which the boundaries between music and poetry eventually dissolve. Interesting sound effects on the piano and tapping on the cello rising to a frenzy opened the work which later became more conventional in scope. The progress of migrants crossing through swamps and barbed only to meet resistance when they reach sanctuary in a forest was a poignant reminder of the human condition today. Mythological elements merge with the human who are transfigured.
What better follow-on to Up by the Roots than Schoenberg’s tone poem Transfigured Night, performed in Eduard Steuermann’s arrangement for piano trio. Sometimes arrangements can shed new light on a work and this was certainly true here with the piano adding extra clarity to the music. It was helpful that Sinéad Morrissey read a translation of Richard Dehmel’s poem which inspired Schoenberg, about two figures walking in the moonlight, a pregnant woman who considers herself to be disgraced and her lover who responds generously to her plight encompassing her in his arms. The Fidelio lavished much loving care and attention on this work transforming the anguished, nervous and bitter first half into a mood of consolation and liberation in the second after a dramatic change from minor to major.
The Cheltenham Music Festival finishes on Sunday 17th July visit www.cheltenhamfestivals.com/music.