Having seen the talents that a handful of the percussionist from the Royal Welsh department had to offer in an afternoon of Bartók and student compositions, I would be blessed enough to see the entire department play the very same week. Lead by Colin Currie (in a day of workshops for all ages), this renowned percussion player is one of the finest today and simply has to be seen live.
Leading the student forces in Varèse’s Ionisation, Currie brought to life this eye-bulging piece. A classic of the the repertoire, it features oddities such as a lion roar, sirens and tone clusters on the piano. It’s hard on the senses, though makes for an experience that could only ever work live, revolutionary such is it’s impact. Currie then showed off his skills on solo marimba with Bryce Dessner and his Tromp Miniature. Written for the Tromp Festival, this is a subtle encounter filled with moments of pianissimo. It’s soft nature did not quite get round me, Currie playing with determination, as always.
A trip to the vibraphone for Vibra-Elufa by Stockhausen was another quirky encounter. Taken from Freitag as Licht, one of his several absurd operatic experiences, this duet for basset horn and flute is transposed to the vibes in Stockhausen’s usually quasi-mystical tendencies, fluttery and well embellished. Realismos Magicos by Rolf Wallin, with Currie back on marimba, was inspired by the work of writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez (the piece premiered the month of his death in 2014). This magic realism is taken on in the score, with a variety of mallets creating different sounds and fleeting moments. Not as note-worthy as the literary connections, though I think it was more interesting to watch then listen to.
Ending with three pieces by Steve Reich, Currie has proven his mastery of this American composer’s canon. Music for Pieces of Wood has four players who bash on various sized Claves, the feeling hypnotic, though could easily be half the length. Nagoya Marimbas a luscious duet, infused with the typical Reich kind of zesty kick you always get. Though it was the first part of his Drumming which really stole the show. This along with his, Music for 18 Musicians remain his masterpieces, Drumming a more intimate affair with a handle of percussionists. The phasing here remains mesmerising, an energising exercise of endurance for the players, an offering of vitality for the listeners. In short, I wanted to hear the entire piece.
Well done to Currie and to the efforts of this impassioned percussion department.