Concert Reviews

Friday 13th February

February 14, 2009

OK so I’m predicatable. I really like Ben Drew’s A Folding Table release. Like he said I would. I’m not sure whether to be happy that I really like the music or peeved that I am that easy to read. Anyway I’ll try and write a little more in depth about it at some point this coming weekend. Today I was off of work and after spending a lovely day with my better half, this evening I managed to squeeze a lovely little gig in.

Dominic Lash is a double bassist I like a lot and will be releasing a Cathnor disc of before too long. He also lives in Oxford and is one of the driving forces behind the Oxford Improvisers concert series. Even though they take place just up the road from me here I have an abysmal, and embarrassing record of not attending many of these gigs. I don’t know why this is really. Dom is capable of playing in a variety of styles, ranging from full blown jazz styled workouts to quieter, more textural music, and perhaps the majority of the Oxford gigs have always suggested the former category to me, but I suspect I am actually wrong here and need to just shut up and go and attend more events. I’ll try to in future, especially after this one.

Dom has an ongoing musical partnership with Bruno Guastalla, an Oxford based cellist. They have released at least one CD together. My ignorance extends to not knowing exactly how many. For this gig the duo formed two thirds of a new group named Teasel (I don’t know why but its a good name!) along with Helena Gough, the laptop composer that was part of the Shale group I saw play last weekend. The combination of strings and laptop seemed an intriguing and unlikely one until Helena told me she trained for a number of years as a violinist.

Teasel played two sets either side of a solo cello recital by Johanna Messner, the visiting principal cellist of the Sinfonietta Tübingen chamber orchestra. Messner played seven of Bach’s incredible pieces for cello, four from the D Minor Suite and three from the D Major. Sandwiched between these was a piece by Gyorgy Kurtag called “Az hib…”
The Drama Studio at Brookes University was the venue for this gig, which attracted a modest audience of maybe a dozen people in out of the icy weather. The perfect size and shape for this kind of gig, the room had a very dry acoustic. Messner’s playing, stunning in its passionate exuberance was therefore crystal clear as the sound didn’t want to move anywhere around the room, but also very flat. Probably a great room for recording in, maybe not so great for live music but a small quibble to make about a room that was provided for free.

Anyway it was a joy to sit a few feet in front of Messner and watch her play these pieces. I just don’t usually get to see this kind of thing for one reason or another and as the Bach suites are amongst my very favourite classical works this was a real treat. The Kurtag piece fitted in seamlessly as well. I am completely oblivious to Kurtag’s music but might seek out more after hearing this piece. It sounded like an updated, less busy version of the Bach works actually, expressive but still quite simple and very beautiful.

Before Messner’s performance came the first from Teasel. The first ten minutes of this set were really gorgeous. As Gough set free gentle swathes of tonal sounds and just-unrecognisable field recordings so Lash and Gustalla played very softly over the top, initially with bows on strings in the traditional way, but in a sparse, unhurried manner. Both of the strings players are very adept, versatile musicians and very much in tune with one another and they combined well as Gough then began to weave her textures between them, and at one point she played back recordings of the other two she had made the day before into the proceedings, confusing this listener that likes to listen with eyes closed something silly. The set then went through a couple of natural endings, with Gough stopping playing as at first the remaining duo continued, improvising together nicely and then Lash carried on on his own for a couple of minutes. All of this set was very nice, but the opening passage when all three musicians were fully engaged in the process was sublime.

After Messner’s performance, a beer and a chat Teasel played again. This time Gough played in a more assertive manner, though still establishing a similar, fragile mood to the music from the outset by letting a very quiet processed recording lead the way. The strings added spots of colour to this and small constructions were formed and then dismantled in the music until, as Gough brought a gentle flood of rich tones to the fore, first Lash and then Guastalla joined with overlapping bowed notes. This built into a room-filling thrum for a while until the acoustic instruments dropped out and Gough’s single note slipped quietly away to end the evening.

A great little event tonight, made all the more enjoyable by the relaxed atmosphere and my own lack of having to worry about the stress of a journey home from London. Great stuff.

I did listen to the last disc of Goh Lee Kwang’s Wiring my ear to the ground on the way home tonight, but my final thoughts on the set deserve better than to be tacked on the end of a concert review, so I will write up my thoughts this weekend.

Comments (10)

  • benedictdrew

    February 14, 2009 at 9:44 am

    Hi Richard
    im glad you really like it, dont be annoyed that i thought you might like it more than that other thing.. as i explained before “outside the collective” was a throw away work. and seeing as how i only know you through music and that you post on the internet your interests and you run a record label that has a certain consistency its not that herd to guess what you might like and not like… however when i make things i am almost entirely unsure whether anyone will like it or not. i look forward to reading your thoughts about these pieces. i know its a bit indulgent. but oh well. go on,

    that gig sounds great .
    i am on a string quartet mission.
    i wonder if you could list 5 string quartet cd’s. i hesitate to say top 5 cause thats to hard but could you recommend 5 . ( feldman not allowed as i know most of his stuff )
    sorry i know thats a bit off topic.

    oh and i think you should write about cathnor.

  • Dominic Lash

    February 14, 2009 at 10:48 am

    Thanks for the characteristically sensitive and perceptive comments Richard. It was great to see you at the gig. Just a couple of purely factual points – Bruno and I have made only one CD, ‘Grazing’ on Bruno’s own label Petite Industrie Ephemere. (Don’t know why I didn’t give you a copy, I shall do so next week.) And the duo recordings that Helena used as material were not from the day before, but were taken from this CD. (Oh and with my irritating proofreaders hat – somehow Guastalla morphs later in your piece to Gustalla . . .)
    Nice photo too!

  • Richard Pinnell

    February 14, 2009 at 11:14 am

    Hi Dom

    Typo corrected, my apologies. Going to a gig, getting home, writing about it, adding a photo etc all in one evening is tough going but I’m impressing myself that I can do this, even if the quality is on the debatable side.

    The photo is two photos, taken with an iPhone in the dark as you were about to start the second set, hence the graininess. I stitched the two together roughly in photoshop last night with the intention of cleaning up the join a little, but I quite like it the way it is! If you click on the pic you get a full size version. Thanks for a great gig!

  • Richard Pinnell

    February 14, 2009 at 11:27 am

    Ben, string quartets off the top of my head just before I go to work…

    Shostakovich – Complete String Quartets performed by the Borodin Quartet. (Melodiya Records)

    Bartok – 6 String Quartets performed by Emerson SQ (Deutsche Grammophon)

    Helmut Lachenmann – Reigen Seliger Geister performed by Arditti SQ (preferably the 1991 recording on Montaigne but if you can’t find it the recent set of Lachenmann quartets by the Arditti on Kairos is also very good)

    Jürg Frey – String Quartets performed by Quatuor Bozzini (Wandelweiser)

    Luigi Nono – Fragmente-Stille performed by Arditti SQ on Montaigne.

    Benjamin Britten – String Quartets Vol.1 & 2 by Maggini SQ, very cheap releases on Naxos.

    Berg – Complete Chamber Music by Schoenberg SQ on Chandos (There are slightly better versions but this is another cut-price budget release worth getting)

  • Richard Pinnell

    February 14, 2009 at 11:34 am

    Sorry just realised that is seven not five! (the last two are really cheap though!!) My favourites from that list in order are: Shostakovich, Nono, Frey, Bartok, Lachenmann, Berg, Britten. I could do another list of thirty if asked, but I tried to cover different styles there.

  • Barry Chabala

    February 14, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    great list richard! i second most of them ( i dont have the last two ). certainly a good starting point. Ben – love the folding table set. i’ve listened to it twice so far.

  • graham halliwell

    February 14, 2009 at 11:44 pm

    nice list – but please don’t forget Beethoven (especially the late quartets – essential). You’ll certainly hear musical references in the Shostakovich and Britten.

    There is a decent box set of the complete Beethoven quartets by Talich at budget price. I recommend listening to them in reverse order.

  • Richard Pinnell

    February 15, 2009 at 12:24 am

    Thanks for the tip Graham. In recent months I have slowed off investigating classical material, simply because there has been so much contemporary music to try and get to grips to. I do need to investigate Beethoven at some point though and will bear your recommendation very much in mind.

  • Bruno Guastalla

    February 16, 2009 at 10:57 pm

    Hi Richard
    thank you for your listening and subsequent review!
    on the subject of string quartet:
    Eliott Carter’s fifth , and his “Fragment” for string quartet .
    eery sounds and unbelievably subtly varied colour/pitch combinations, and masterful shaping!

  • Richard Pinnell

    February 17, 2009 at 12:16 am

    Thanks for stopping by Bruno. Was nice to meet you last week, sure it won’t be the last time.

    I am oblivious to Carter’s music and should sort this out I guess. When I was much younger and learning about improvised music back in the early nineties I saw Elliot Sharp play, and really hated it. For years after I got Carter confused with Sharp and avoided both for no easily explainable reason! That’s my excuse anyway and I’m sticking by it 😉

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