Thursday, September 17, 2009


A Concert of charm, spice and virtuosity

St. James in Piccadilly is the only Wren Church built on an original site – consecrated 1684. Wren wrote of the church “I think it may be found beautiful and convenient”. Convenient for concerts because of its clear bright acoustic, it was the venue for what was proclaimed as a Concert for Peace given by an excellent pick-up chamber orchestra named MANA – Musicians Against Nuclear Arms, all giving their services. There were speeches needless to say, all in favour of the cause. The programme ended with the only classical work, Haydn’s London Symphony.

The evening began with the suite that Fauré selected from the music put together for a commedia dell’arte entertainment given in Monaco in 1919. By this time Fauré’s deafness was so bad that only the sound of the voice gave him any pleasure, that of the orchestra was a rattling nightmare, high sounds flat, low notes sharp. As usual he enlisted help with the orchestration. Both the first and third of the four movements were rehashes of earlier works. The overture bubbles along in a joyous way, The Gavotte is sturdier than most Fauré. The final Pastoral is the most interesting, less meandering than some of his late music, it is fragrant, beguiling and harks back subtly to the themes of the overture. The conductor was alert to all its charm; this was Levon Parikian, son of the distinguished violinist, Manoug.

Parikian gave a fine accompaniment to the second item, Debussy’s Danse Sacrée et Danse Profane, most exquisitely and eloquently played by the solo harpist, Christina Rhys. Next came the Poem for flute and orchestra by Charles Tomlinson Griffes. This composer died young (1884 – 1920) produced what Virgil Thomson described as ‘first class music’, including a Piano Sonata, and the orchestral Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan and this fascinating Poem. Damrosch, Monteux and Stokowski all performed Griffes. His style changed, at first revealing his Berlin training, later his interest in the East and the dissonance of Schoenberg. Griffes had gone a long way since his sporadic studies with old man Humperdinck. The brilliant soloist here was the Lebanese flautist Wissam Boustany who then played his own solo work …And the Wind Whispered. This was an atmospheric piece in which he made evocative sounds and effects that I have never heard before on the instrument. One seemed wafted away into the realms of nature, the sounds not only recalling the wind but also birds flocking, wheeling and fluttering. This was a rare experience of wild calls and exciting trills. Quite out of the ordinary. The audience was rapt. Levon Parikian is to be congratulated on his direction of the orchestra and his enterprising choice of programme.

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