Revue Psappha – a new famous music group with shouts, ceramics, poetry and piano | Classical music

JThirty years ago, percussionist Tim Williams formed a new music group in Manchester. Williams has remained artistic director of Psappha ever since, but later that year stepped down. The band’s current tour is therefore both a celebration of its 30th anniversary and an extended farewell to its founder.

Psappha’s list of commissions from established and fledgling composers over its history is prodigious and, characteristically, its tour program also includes brand new work. Like several recent pieces by Simon Holt, The Semer, for alto flute, cello, piano and cimbalom, is inspired by the poetry of Antonio Machado, in this case a text found on a bronze plaque in the Andalusian town de Baeza, where Machado taught French between 1912 and 1919.

Holt’s single 20-minute movement is strung with long solo lines for flute and cello, to which the other instruments add bursts of commentary or combine with them to create passages of mechanical insistence. The sound of the cimbalom sometimes blends into that of the piano but more often adds its own distinctive accent to the textures. It’s a piece that sounds by turns elegiac and hopeful, full of the crisp, crisp instrumental details that are so typical of Holt’s music.

Williams and pianist Benjamin Powell also covered The Ax Manual, Harrison Birtwistle’s 2001 piano workout and extensive percussion range, in which the two protagonists are either locked in musical combat or maniacal toccatas. The technical challenges posed by these clashes are immense but it was a performance of fabulous confidence. And between these substantial scores were two works from Psappha’s program to encourage composers at the start of their careers: Translucent by Joanna Ward, for a solo cellist (Jennifer Langridge), who must hum, sing and shout in addition to playing it . instrument; and Ninfea Cruttwell-Reade’s Three Etudes for Piano and Flowerpots, in which tuned ceramics produce sounds somewhere between Javanese gamelan and John Cage’s prepared piano.

At Imperial College London, March 10. Then on tour.

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