Keith Tippett Octet at the London Jazz Festival

Keith Tippett Octet [Keith Tippett (piano/composition, above); Fulvio Sigurta (trumpet/flugelhorn), Jim Gold (alto and soprano saxophones), Paul Booth (alto saxophone/flute), Kieran McLeod and Rob Harvey, trombones; Tom McCredie, double bass; Peter Fairclough, drums/percussion]

Guests: Matthew Bourne (piano), Julie Tippetts (voice/lyrics)

Hall One, Kings Place, London; Friday 10 November 2017

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

This year’s London Jazz Festival got off to an auspicious start with tonight’s contrasted sets featuring Keith Tippett, whose inimitable and always resourceful piano playing has graced many solo and collaborative projects over the course of nearly half a century’s active service.

Before the interval, Tippett was joined by Matthew Bourne (above) – himself a pianist who has built up a formidable reputation for essaying the unexpected – for a half-set in which these pianists engaged in what might passably be described as a ‘call and response’ session of far-reaching possibilities. The past century has seen a rich legacy of music for two pianos, and it was hard not to discern echoes of such seminal works – ‘classical’ in designation while not necessarily conception – as Debussy’s En blanc et noir and Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Monologe in the alternately stealthy and quixotic interplay of these musicians.

Frequent recourse was made to the piano strings, whether directly or through ‘prepared’ means, and Tippett at one point took up a solitary maraca to set in motion a vibrant cross-rhythm in what was often complex and sometimes ominous music-making. Just whether this set had reached its intended conclusion seemed in doubt, to judge from Tippett’s regretful leave-taking of the keys, but there was no question as to the tensile power and momentum generated by these two consummate players.

After the interval, the Keith Tippett Octet assembled for a complete rendering of The Nine Dances of Patrick O’Gonogon – Tippett’s 2014 project made possible by crowdfunding and recorded at Real World Studios. Music this intricate and involving is as much the outcome of compositional planning as the real-time responsiveness of those realizing it, so the means in which the two aspects came together across these nine pieces was itself rewarding. Nor was there a loose or informal succession as the first three, then the subsequent two pieces played continuously; leaving those final four pieces to unfold as a natural and extended culmination where earlier elements were developed accordingly. The sequence amounted to a conspectus of invention and virtuosity such as might be expected from an opus with Tippett at the helm.

All the instrumentalists were allotted solos or at the very least spotlights, during which their different personalities (irrespective of instrument) came to the fore. Then followed what was billed as a ‘coda’, in which the penultimate The Dance Of Her Returning was reprised but with lyrics by Julie Tippetts (above) and sung with her customary understated eloquence. The octet played out with Tippett’s arrangement of the Irish traditional tune The Last Rose Of Summer – by turns pensive and plangent, and bringing to an end this memorable and affecting recital.

Further information can be found at Tippett’s website and at that of Discus Music

In concert – Barbara Nissman plays Ginastera at Kings Place


Barbara Nissman (piano); Hall One, Kings Place, London, 24 April 2016

Liszt Mephisto Waltz No.1, S514 (1862)

Bartók Allegro Barbaro, BB63 (1911)

Ginastera Tres Danzas Argentinas, Op.2 (1937)

Prokofiev Piano Sonatas – No.1 in F minor, Op.1 (1909); No. 3 in A minor, Op.28 (1917)

Ginastera Piano Sonata No.3, Op.55 (1982)

Bartók Night Music, BB89 No.4 (1926)

Ginastera Piano Sonata No.1, Op.22 (1952)

Written by Richard Whitehouse

Although his centenary has been widely reported, the music of Alberto Ginastera has been relatively little heard in the UK so far this year – making this recital from one of his most devoted pupils more welcome. Best known here for a cycle of Prokofiev sonatas a quarter-century ago, Barbara Nissman is a pianist wholly in the tradition of transcendental pianism – though such virtuosity never precludes an enquiring approach to the music at hand, as was evident in the thoughtfulness with which this morning’s programme had been assembled.

Beginning with Liszt’s First Mephisto Waltz was a case in point, as the essence of all that followed is encapsulated in its cunning juxtaposition of unbridled revelry and romantic yearning while Lenau’s decidedly sardonic take on the Faust legend is unfolded. Nissman despatched it with required verve and elegance, then summoned comparable impetus in the brief yet remorseless accumulation of energy of Bartók’s Allegro Barbaro – a repost to those who had doubted the integrity behind the unremitting intensity of his musical idiom.

There is nothing rebarbative about the Danzas Argentinas as were among Ginastera’s earliest successes, the teenage composer delighting in the rhythmic élan yet also insinuating lyricism of ideas inspired by though not beholden to the folk-music of his homeland. If the even younger Prokofiev was at all less assured stylistically when making his compositional debut with his First Sonata, this one-movement amalgam of sonata aspects within a more inclusive design lacks little in the resolve necessary to integrate its wide stylistic remit.

Nissman projected it with relish, then was no less convincing in the Third Sonata that – whatever the derivation from earlier material – brings appreciably greater individuality to bear on its ingenious four-in-one structure and uninhibited yet resourceful display. Qualities which are hardly less apparent in the Third Sonata which the ailing Ginastera wrote for Nissman, its allusion to Scarlatti extending beyond the use of binary form to a rhythmic and harmonic pungency as spills over into the effervescent coda with its curtly decisive close.

After the ‘Night Music’ movement from Bartók’s suite Out of Doors had provided a welcome moment of pensiveness, the recital was concluded by the First Sonata with which Ginastera moved decisively from his earlier nationalism towards a more wide-ranging musical outlook. That said, the spirit of the Argentinian pampas is heard simmering below the surface of the bracing initial Allegro and more overtly in those disembodied rustlings which permeate the Presto. The Adagio must rank among the most eloquent penned by its composer, with Nissman probing its depths as surely as she conveyed the energy of the finale when it surges towards a coruscating close. In its amalgam, moreover, of Classical formal poise with post-Romantic expression, the piece looks pointedly from its own time to that of the present.

A well-planned-recital and a welcome return for Nismann, who introduced each piece from the stage. A pity none of the recordings on her Three Oranges label was available, as these feature a wealth of unfamiliar as well as neglected music, and well deserve investigation.

You can read more about Barbara Nissman at her website, while her Three Oranges Recordings site can be accessed here