sun 14/04/2024

Colin Currie Quartet, Wigmore Hall review - toccatas for triangles and teacups | reviews, news & interviews

Colin Currie Quartet, Wigmore Hall review - toccatas for triangles and teacups

Colin Currie Quartet, Wigmore Hall review - toccatas for triangles and teacups

Scintillating virtuosity from world-leading percussion quartet

The Colin Currie Quartet play Amy Beth Kirsten at the Wigmore Hall© The Wigmore Hall Trust, 2024

I have never seen the Wigmore Hall stage more crammed with instruments than for this Colin Currie Quartet concert. Sadly the auditorium was not similarly packed, the hall’s admirable initiative of broadening its repertoire away from mainly dead Germans being disappointingly shunned by the regular patrons.

This amazing group deserved better – and the younger than usual audience were treated to a scintillating display of virtuosity. The programme was bookended by the music of Andy Akiho, who is himself a percussionist as well as composer, something that was clear from his deft handling of the musicians, maximising of the sounds that four people can make. The opening of “Pillar I” from Four Pillars, a 90-minute work written between 2014 and 2021, was a truly magical: the reverberant boom of a pedal bass drum set against a dry clack from untuned wood and metal, one of the players looking like he was a Carry On-era Sid James twanging a bra-strap. The piece continued into a complex rhythmic groove, clattering and battering its way to a frenzied climax. I loved it.

The rippling textures of Dave Maric’s Nascent Forms, for two marimbas and two vibraphones, were much less memorable, clearly a familial descendent of Steve Reich, most notably in the moto perpetuo finale. Freya Waley-Cohen’s Stone Fruit had an intriguing and unique soundworld which involved the players playing teacups and saucers with chopsticks. They had an alluring out-of-tuneness, recalling John Cage’s prepared piano, or a pub piano. The sounds were delicate and the rhythmic interplay complex and satisfying, but the piece felt a bit too long for itself, and lost a bit of interest as the music moved on to drums: its strength was in the coup de théâtre of the teacups, and everything else weakened the central idea.The Colin Currie Quartet play Freya Waley-Cohen's Stone FruitAs if to demonstrate this, Amy Beth Kirsten’s may the devil take me saw the quartet all playing a single, different sized triangle. Usually used for their resonance, here the triangles were clutched in the players’ hands, resulting in more of thud, with the occasional loosening of the grip giving a moment of sustain. Sounding like a set of rogue wind chimes, it was a brilliantly simple idea, squeezed of all its potential, and not outstaying its welcome. The quartet, who clearly enjoy playing together, were at their most relaxed here, and it helped sell the piece.

Before that, Steve Reich’s Mallet Quartet (the oldest piece of the evening, from 2009) did the usual Steve Reich stuff, which is great if you like that kind of thing. And I do. It took half a minute to settle but once it did the bed of marimbas allowed the vibraphones to dance in the foreground. The slow movement was poised and magical and the finale a miracle of co-ordination, the four players moving up their instruments as the harmony gradually cleared to two notes. It isn’t the very best Reich, but doesn’t have to be to still be very good.

Then back to Akiho for a dazzling finale. The CCQ – Currie himself, Owen Gunnell, Adrian Spillett and Sam Walton – is a phenomenal group and they made light of the monstrous difficulties of “Pillar IV”. Sharing instruments, pairing off in rhythmical games, a floating sense of pulse, now a woody texture, now something metallic – and all at a ferocious pace – it was a sheer delight. I just don’t envy them getting all the kit back in the van after the rest of us had gone home.

@bernardlhughes

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