Branka Parlic: The Cone Gatherers

The Capstone Theatre
12th November 2013

Reviewed by Joe Coventry

Balkan Bravura

Serbian-based Branka Parlic has played all over Eastern Europe, and it was a real treat to see her in the Capstone's brilliantly acoustic setting for an evening of minimalist and post-minimalist piano music tonight.

Her commanding presence and no nonsense meticulous attention to detail became apparent in Gnossiennes, (Nos 7 and 5), from Eric Satie. Languid and sensuous miniatures, with a hint of lingering doubt, they were mere truffles of sound invoking timeless nights of indulgent dalliance.

Next came Arvo Part's Fur Alina, to the accompaniment of some squeaky seats and rustling programmes. It was first performed in Tallinn in 1976 and was played 'Tintinnabuli' style; (think Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells). The music, full of introspection, humming overtones, and shadowy resonances was fabulously evenly paced, before timelessly drifting away to nothingness.

Next came a piece that echoed Michael Nyman's film music for 'The Piano'. This composer though was Dutch and J. van Veen's Minimal Prelude No 18, (2001), filled the air with undulating ripples of sound from the central keys of the gleaming Steinway Grand. This was sonorous, full bodied and at times on edge, emotionally building to a crashing stop before a slow coda to finish.

The first half ended with eleven minutes around the tone of E; a dark, discordant, migraine of a piece. It became faster and more manic, before eventually resolving itself, but by then it was resigned, unhappy and worn out in some nostalgic otherness. Graham Fitkin's 'The Cone Gatherers' reflected harshly on the replenishing of Scotland's post World War 11 de-nuded pine forests.

The second half was billed as a Philip Glass showcase. Along with Steve Reich he was responsible for introducing the minimalist canon into contemporary music, where harmony is eschewed in favour of rhythm, melody and repetition. Recalling Kafka, Metamorphosis Nos 1,2,3 were searching and evolving works. At first No 1 is commanding, but it ends, not sure of itself; No 2 is all trills and frills breaking out into ecstatic abandon with a dark edge to it; No 3 initially a cascading belly laugh falters before glumly concluding.

Mad Rush needed a page turner and, as the title implies, after a slow stop-start introduction it grew in stature to a work that demanded extreme manual dexterity from the performer. It was somehow commissioned to welcome the Dalai Lama to New York in 1981 and finished to well earned applause.

Recalled for an encore, Branka Parlic served up more dark chocolate with a caramel finish, in Satie's Gnossienne No4, and all too soon this exploration of the genre, was over.

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