Review: Five Bagatelles

“Spearheaded by Tim Benjamin ... this concert was brilliantly executed and conceived”

“Benjamin's quirky series of bagatelles ... this judicious musical künstlerroman brought a welcome levity ... certainly something to smile about”

New Notes on 2nd May 2007, by William May
Radius at Holywell Music Room, Oxford, May 2007

Radius are a new music group bringing together an enviable assortment of gifted young players. Following on from the ensembles debut performance at the Wigmore Hall last week, this concert was brilliantly executed and conceived. Spearheaded by the composers Ian Vine and Tim Benjamin, who met whilst studying composition with Anthony Gilbert at the Royal Northern College of Music, Radius specialise in angular, serial, modernism played with commitment and intensity.

Vines own underpaintings began the concert, its long decaying lines prompting some fine breath control from clarinettist Charys Green. Still more striking was the superbly individual performance of Benjamin’s piano Prelude by Berenika, whose thundering and taut playing threatened a virtuosic violence. Yet this was also a programme concerned with influence and lineage: the first half was completed by two rarely-performed works by Louis Andriessen and Anthony Gilbert. The latter’s Moonfaring, which represents Australian tribal rites in a seven-movement work for cello and percussion, was particularly impressive. Adrian Spillett’s sensitive marimba work combined with Oliver Coates’ haunting phrases to create a performance that was both sonorous and plangent.

Another connection linking the various featured composers were their experiments with musical structures. Andriessen’s piece for violin and piano follows the syllabic count of a Jan Engelman love poem, whilst John Cage’s Five forgoes set instrumentation or rhythmic specificity for a series of held notes governed by mechanical time periods. Elliot Carter’s Espirit Rude/Espirit Doux II for flute, clarinet and marimba takes its cue from the aspirated vowels of classical Greek. Throughout the programme, the performers coped well with the formal and logistical challenges such works present, none more so than Daniel Rowland in his heart-stopping interpretation of Berio’s Sequenza VIII for solo violin.

Yet it was only in Benjamin’s quirky series of bagatelles that the ensemble were finally united. Throughout this judicious musical künstlerroman, the players brought a welcome levity to the proceedings. On the evidence of these first concerts, all concerned certainly have something to smile about.

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