In concert – Sol & Pat (Sol Gabetta & Patricia Kopatchinskaja) @ Queen Elizabeth Hall

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Leclair Violin Sonata in C major Op.5/10: Tambourin (c1734)
Widmann 24 Duos: Valse bavaroise; Toccatina all’inglese (2008)
J.S. Bach Prelude in G major (from BWV860) (c1722)
Francisco Coll Rizoma (2017)
Domenico Scarlatti Sonata in G, Kk.305
Ravel Sonata for violin & cello (1922)
J.S. Bach 15 Two-part Inventions BWV772-86 (selection) (c1723)
Ligeti Hommage à Hilding Rosenberg (1982)
Xenakis Dipli zyia (1951)
C.P.E. Bach Presto in C minor Wq114/3 (c1768)
Kodály Duo Op.7 (1914)

Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin), Sol Gabetta (cello)

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Tuesday 26 October 2021

Written by Richard Whitehouse

Combining two of the most charismatic and creative string players of their generation was such a good idea to make one surprised it had not happened earlier, but tonight the Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Sol Gabetta double-act hit the Southbank Centre in no uncertain terms.

A stomping entrée to Leclair’s Tambourin in C (a rare instance when Kopatchinskaja donned footwear) launched proceedings in arresting fashion, while Jörg Widmann’s Valse bavaroise and Toccatina all’inglese – both from his resourceful playbook of 24 Duos – allured and engaged. Bach’s Prelude in G (from BWV860) afforded a limpid breathing-space, then Francisco Coll’s Rizoma fairly intrigued with its incrementally shifting textures and ethereal harmonics – just the sort of piece, indeed, necessary for energizing the violin-and-cello medium. Kopatchinskaja admitted to disliking the arrangement of Scarlatti’s Sonata in G (Kk305) and canvassed the audience for its opinion, the response encouraging an incisive take on music whose enthusiastic response left her shaking her head in mock consternation.

The first half concluded with Ravel’s Sonata for violin and cello – much less often revived than it should be, ostensibly on account of the duo-medium, but an undoubted masterpiece when rendered with such commitment as here. Kopatchinskaja and Gabetta teased out those exquisite tonal obliquities of the Allegro, countered by the alternate brusqueness and suavity of the scherzo or distanced rapture of the slow movement; before the finale brought matters to a head with its headlong syncopation and no lack of that ‘spirit’ as indicated in the score.

A brief inclusion from Bach’s 15 Two-Part Inventions (BWV772-86) opened the second half with pointed understatement (presumably more so than the Scarlatti sonata that was originally scheduled), with the expressive poise of Ligeti’s Hommage á Hilding Rosenberg duly making way for the acerbic interplay of Xenakis’s Dipli zyia which is among the most Bartókian of the formative pieces to have found posthumous revival by this composer (who is hopefully being suitably commemorated throughout his centenary in 2022).

Kopatchinskaja and Gabetta then sat side by side for a speculative reading of C.P.E. Bach’s Presto in C minor (Wq.114 No. 3) made the more so through its being played pizzicato throughout. Interesting, too, how such an arrangement can dissolve any perceived boundary between musical epochs.

The programme reached a culmination in every sense with Kodály’s Duo, one of several large-scale chamber-works for strings on which his reputation as a composer of ‘abstract’ music rests. After a tensile account of the preludial Allegro, Kopatchinskaja and Gabetta rendered the central Adagio with sustained pathos and a timbral acuity made more so by their faultless intonation. Nor was there any lack of eloquence in the finale, its deliberate progress building a momentum that was released in the coda to heady and exhilarating effect.

Quite a concert, then, with a performance to match by two musicians who complement each other’s playing to a mutually beneficial degree. Hopefully they will be returning with another wide-ranging programme before too long. The enthusiastic audience evidently felt likewise.

For more information on the new Sol & Pat release, head to the Linn Records website

JACK Quartet – Xenakis day at the Wigmore Hall

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JACK Quartet [(Christoper Otto, Austin Wulliman (violins), John Pickford Richards (viola), Jay Campbell (cello)]

Saturday, 25 February 2017, Wigmore Hall

Written by Ben Hogwood

Xenakis Ergma (1994), Embellie (1981), Mikka (1971), Kottos (1977), Hunem-Iduhey (1996), ST/4-1, 080262 (1956-62)

As part of its enterprising commitment to contemporary music, the Wigmore Hall ‘composer days’ are key, giving audiences a chance either to try something new or to further an admiration of an established figure.

Xenakis day, honouring the Greek composer, architect, civil engineer and burgeoning computer programmer Iannis Xenakis, concentrated on his works for strings on a small scale. The lunchtime concert, an hour in length but packed with six intriguingly titled pieces, showed just how adventurous Xenakis was in stretching the boundaries of the instruments he wrote for.

That said, the opening Ergma was a little more conventional in its grouping of the conventional string quartet – two violins, viola and cello. However it stipulated they should concentrate on chords containing the major seventh (nearly a perfect octave but not quite) and this created music of ear-bending tension. The JACK Quartet played with great freedom but also keen virtuosity, responding like athletes that had been set a physical challenge. Xenakis’ powerful and often confrontational sound world had been set.

The contrasting solo pieces that followed were effectively programmed, showing the great lengths Xenakis went to in finding new and interesting sounds for familiar instruments. Embellie, a substantial piece for solo viola, was brilliantly played by John Pickford Richards, who found unexpected if brief moments of contemplation amongst the abrasive chords he was asked to play. The use of microtones – notes in between the conventional twelve of a conventional Western scale – created once again the unique brand of tension Xenakis’ music holds.

Following this was the elusive Mikka – elusive because Christopher Otto’s violin line slid all over the place restlessly, like a fast moving fish evading capture. The sounds were genuinely funny at times, possibly not an intention of the composer but again showing how original sounds from familiar sources can get a reaction, whether a laugh or a frown. Both reactions were clear here!

The cello had its moment too, in the form of the brilliantly played Kottos, Jay Campbell at the absolute peak of his technical craft. This was the most accessible piece, using harmonics and a technique of bowing the actual bridge of the instrument itself to create eerie sounds. Xenakis uses sustained drones on the instrument, and these effectively accompanied the melodies, and they took on a religious connotation in their profile. Later on, folk tunes came to the fore and the energy of the piece built, Campbell finishing with a flourish.

The brief and rather caustic march Hunem-Iduhey (its title a reverse of the name Yehudi Menuhin) was an obstinate aside, before we heard one of the first pieces written as the result of a computer program. ST/4-1, 080262 – a deliberately non-catchy title – was ‘written’ after Xenakis mastered a program on what was thought to be the only IBM computer available in France. Scored for string quartet, the piece was filled with randomly generated incident to begin with, as though the computer had been trying too hard to fill in every possible outcome from the four instruments, but as the piece progressed the music became more spacious and easier to digest. There was no sense of ‘home’ here particularly, save some repeated, bell-like notes plucked by Austin Wulliman’s second violin, but that gave the listener a feeling of distance from the music itself, making an appreciation of the performance the main reaction.

There was abundant proof in this concert that Xenakis was one of the most original composers of the second half of last century, and as an introduction to his music it was perfectly weighted. There is a sense that we have not yet fully appreciated the Greek composer’s genius and originality, partly due to the confrontational nature of his music, but it was great to have it brought to the fore here. The JACK Quartet performed athletically and passionately, and it made a lasting impact.