Review: Five Bagatelles

“Benjamin's Five Bagatelles was most successful in embracing the New ... a piece which continually eluded expectation”

The Cherwell on Friday 4th May 2007, by Cara Bleiman
Radius at Holywell Music Room, Oxford, May 2007

Walking into Britain’s oldest concert hall, a swollen wadge of paper is thrust into my hand. Fat, burdensome programme notes are the norm for “experimental” or “modern” performances, and I wonder if Radius chosen epithet “New” will mark them out as any different. Including a selection of works by 20th century masters, newly premiered works and pieces by slightly lesser known living composers, Radius neither attempt to associate themselves with trendy electronic fusion movements nor pander to the proles by sandwiching Mozart with Modern.

Anthony Gilbert’s Moonfaring draws the audience into the tribal rites of spiritual evocation at one level removed; for this is the evocation of an evocation (bear with me) — a musical translation from Aboriginal to European classical instruments and ears. Cellist Oliver Coates emulates the dijeridoo with great precision, and his percussive, athletic bowing displays wonderful dexterity. Gilbert’s aim to go beyond merely borrowing the musical expressions of another culture and to actually re-represent them in “western” terms is quite a challenge, but such issues are absorbed into what an overwhelming and sensuous experience.

Of the most recent compositions, Radius director Tim Benjamin’s Five Bagatelles was most successful in embracing the “New”. A challenge to memory, imagination and aural perception, we were lost in a piece which continually eluded expectation. Including BBC “Young Musician of the Year” winner, percussionist Adrian Spillet, Radius are the sum of a remarkable group of parts and demand to be listened to and engaged with as more than an accompaniment to the weighty programme notes.

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