Marcel and Friends

Philharmonic Hall
21st February 2013

Reviewed by Joe Coventry

I like Marcel Becker. The avuncular double bassist had not only amassed an impressive entourage but led his ensemble with a gravitas that suited a demanding and original programme for both players and audience alike.

The Thursday lunch-time series was given by a selection of players from the RLPO on a monthly basis. To get classical music of this quality for a modest £6 ticket was tremendous value. A bonus, was to be provided with information and explanation of the works in Marcel's distinctive German accent, which added to the international flavour of the occasion.

First up was Sergie Prokofiev's Opus 39 dating from 1924. Originally commissioned by choreographer and fellow Russian Boris Romanov, for his ballet Trapeze in Paris, today's performance consisted of six of the eight original movements. Oboe, clarinet, violin, viola and double bass players perform this piece as they were the only musicians available at the time.

The trapeze is an integral part of a circus and the movements here resonate in tempo and rhythm with the imagery of the Big Top - there was an elephantine quality to some of the slower music accompanying the swooping of the strings or the juggling in the woodwind.

Argentinian Mauricio Kagel (1931 - 2008) moved permanently to Germany in 1957, settling in Cologne. His Auf dem Nachlass, (From the Estate), for violin, cello and double bass consisted of sharp fragmentary representations of nine of the sixteen evil spirits found in a series of short stories. Here the experimental combinations of competing instruments, or soloist release, sought for ascendancy. At times new themes were started up while a lingering chord still resonated. This was dark and uneasy music which never comfortably resolved itself. All that was missing was a human scream to top it off (Think the soundtrack of the recent film, The Berbarian Sound Studio).

Finally, Benjamin Britten's Opus 1, his Sinfonietta for both wind and string quintet, written when he was 18. An ambitious piece in three movements, Arnold Shoenberg may well have influenced the composition.

Fine playing from an unusually full platform, this music flowed more melodically as a recurring motif from the dynamic and agitated first movement kept the players busy. At one point I heard an early phrase from one of The Sea Interludes from his yet to be constructed opera, Peter Grimes.

On a freezing cold day the one-third full auditorium gave well deserved applause for an hour of excellent and thought provoking entertainment. Days like this do not come along too often so try to catch one of these concerts if you can.

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