Review: Three Portraits

“... the brilliant Three Portraits by Tim Benjamin ... full of character and refreshingly entertaining”

Seen & Heard, January 2008, by Carla Rees
Radius at Purcell Room, 8th January 2008

This was an interesting evening, made up of a variety of contemporary works for chamber ensemble. Serving as a 50th birthday celebration for Simon Holt, tonight was the group’s second performance at the Wigmore Hall.

The concert opened with the world premiere of Ian Vine’s X, a percussion solo performed engagingly by Adrian Spillett. The piece opened atmospherically, with its understated quiet pulses ideally suited to the acoustic of the hall. A one movement work in four sections, the piece developed through timbral changes and increasing complexity. This was a hypnotic work, which was performed convincingly by Spillett.

This was followed by the brilliant Three Portraits by Radius director and founder, Tim Benjamin. In homage to Elgar, these three short movements were described by the composer as affectionate portraits of friends. Unsurprisingly, these pieces were full of character and were refreshingly entertaining. Scored for violin, cello, horn and piano, Benjamin demonstrated considerable skill in his use of the instruments, balancing the horn carefully with the rest of the ensemble so that it never dominated unless intended to do so. The ensemble played better together here too, with the horn played with much sensitivity by Jocelyn Lightfoot. There was some wonderful team work between the violin and cello in the calmer central movement, with a decorative piano line performed with careful attention to balance. The final movement opened with an amusingly used quote from The Rite of Spring on the horn, with interrupted lines as all the parts battled for melodic supremacy. This was an excellent set of pieces and I would have liked more!

The opening of the second half was, for me, worth the cost of a ticket on its own. Cellist Oliver Coates performed Xenakis solo work, Kottos. A highly demanding technical challenge, using many contemporary sounds and rhythmic complexity, Coates was always in control and full of charisma. This was a highly communicative performance, full of rich sonorities and musical integrity. Coates is a master of his instrument, who had me transfixed for the duration of the performance. This was virtuosity in the extreme — and he made it seem easy. He is, without a doubt, someone who has a dazzling career ahead of him.

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