PAGODA, Shaftesbury Arts Centre

PagodaPAGODA paid their third visit to Shaftesbury at the weekend playing music in their typically eclectic style – hard to define but delightful to listen to. The linchpin of the ensemble is accordionist Paul Hutchinson who immediately established a warm rapport with his audience, MC-ing the proceedings in a suitably relaxed, informal style. The other three members of the quartet joined him as the evening progressed – John Hymas on violin, Karen Wimhurst (clarinet and bass clarinet) and Beth Porter (cello). Fine musicians in their own right – you can catch them all on the Artsreach circuit – together they create something that is truly exceptional.

Most of the pieces were by Hutchinson himself, although the actual arrangements were often more collaborative. Far from simply enjoying an evening of pleasant tunes with some nice chords, my attention was immediately captured by the constantly changing musical texture that the quartet was able to produce; indeed, more than once I wondered what a particular sound was, how it was being created and where it was coming from. Never four-square, the music never once lost its accessibility while the subtle counter-melodies, the often quirky harmonies and the weaving in and out of repeated musical ideas kept my interest at all times. The pieces often had a fresh, improvisatory quality to them too, although a quick look at the music during the interval showed that they were more fully scored than one might have expected.

Highlights for me included the pizzicato cello obbligato in “Going Home” and the beautiful ensemble work in John Hymas’ “Damsons”. For one member of the audience, however, it was definitely Karen Wimhurst’s seductive playing of the bass clarinet in “Tango” that did it – a performance that took him right back to the late 1940’s – and to Egypt no less.

Pagoda’s CD is on the way while their next gig is at Ruskin Mill College near Stroud – definitely worth the drive.

Sunday 10th November 2013

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