Kokoro: Fantasia, Bridport Arts Centre

artofkokoroTHIS year (2017) marks the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s 124th year of bringing high quality live music to the south and south west.   Last weekend, as part of their commitment to deliver music to rural communities in more intimate venues, their new music ensemble, Kokoro, returned to Bridport with a diverse programme entitled Fantasia – music which ranged from recent British works to Shostakovich’s Second Piano Trio.  Kokoro, the name derives from the Japanese word meaning ‘heart’, is involved in a variety of projects throughout the region, and with its pianist and artistic advisor Mark Forkgen at the helm, their passion for showcasing exhilarating modern music was highly evident in last night’s performance.

The first three works were tributes by contemporary composers to Henry Purcell and began with Colin Matthew’s Fantasia No 13.  The original Purcell manuscript, composed in 1683, breaks off in the 31st bar and Matthews takes this as the starting point for his own piece.   In fact, with the exception of prolonging certain notes to give a haunting bell-like effect, Purcell’s own music is, initially at least, unaltered.  Kokoro’s controlled ensemble playing of this opening section, however, with its repeated notes on the piano and lovely pizzicato strings, soon becomes more contemporary in sound and a vigorous and fairly dissonant allegro follows before the music returns to the delicacy of the opening bars.

The second tribute, simply called Fantasia, was composed by Hywel Davies, the BSO’s composer in residence.  This short piece, suggested by poet John Dryden’s An Ode on the Death of Mr Henry Purcell, was full of the sort of musical inventiveness that Davies himself finds in Purcell’s own compositions.  Elizabeth Drew’s exquisite clarinet line soaring over the pianissimo strings created a sense of utter timelessness and had me spellbound.

The third and final tribute, entitled … upon one note, was by Oliver Knussen.   Derived from Purcell’s only five-part fantasia, it gains its title from the middle C that sounds throughout.  Effective programming resulted in the piece picking up beautifully from the stillness of the previous work. Knussen then presented us with a real kaleidoscope of styles before Purcell’s original re-asserted itself in the final few bars, rounding off this trio of pieces in a very pleasing manner.

Michael Nyman’s Yellow Beach is derived from some of the harmonies the composer used in his music for the film Prospero’s Books.   It is made up of two contrasting blocks of sound; the first, slow-moving and dreamlike over shimmering tremolo piano chords alternates with something rather more energetic and rhythmic, making much use of Nyman’s trade-mark repeated chords and a predictably abrupt ending.  The music required absolute precision and, in the more vigorous sections, considerable attack as well, something the trio brought off splendidly.

Two piano miniatures by the late Peter Maxwell Davies then followed, Farewell to Stromness and Yesnaby Ground, played by Mark Forkgen.   The first, one of Davies’ best known pieces, was performed with wistfulness and charm while the second, with its constant variation over a repeated bass figure and increasingly complex texture, reminded me very much of Pachelbel’s Canon but with that unmistakable “Max touch”.

The first part of the evening concluded with the longest of the pieces we had heard so far, Thomas Adès Court Studies – a transcription of six numbers from his opera The Tempest.  The music was full of variety, with its playful opening, disciplined rhythms and lovely dynamic contrasts. The angrier sections relaxing into more poised, reflective episodes held our attention throughout.

The second half of the evening was devoted to a single more substantial work, Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No 2 in E minor.  Beginning with Lionel Handy’s almost imperceptible cello playing way up in its register, imitated shortly afterwards by Kate Turnbull on violin and then, much lower down, by the piano, the mood of the opening movement was quickly established and the close interplay between the three parts sensitively handled.  The allegro con brio which followed was full of virtuosic excitement, almost demonic at times which, ending abruptly, was followed by an intense, elegaic largo, beginning with chilling piano chords over which the violin and cello played their lament with ever increasing intensity.  This lead seamlessly into the final movement which, following staccato piano chords and pizzicato writing for the violin and then cello became increasingly strident. As the programme notes tell us, on the surface this seems jocular in mood but in reality it is a sinister dance of death. The whole then worked up into a harrowing frenzy before reaching the coda when material from all the other movements made a reappearance.

Kokoro’s performance throughout was immensely satisfying.  The programme was well chosen, adventurous but totally accessible and no-one needed to have feared what was ahead of them.  As well as congratulating the ensemble on their superlative playing of course, one must also give the good folk at Bridport Arts Centre a real pat on the back, for they have clearly worked hard to build up a good-sized and attentive following for this sort of event.


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