The Hermes Experiment, RWCM&D

November 27, 2018 by
When writing my last review on The Hermes Experiment when the group was at St David’s Hall, I spoke of how much I would like them to come back to Cardiff. I’m delighted they were back within the same year.

This time they had the entire Dora Stoutzker Hall to themselves. This small and seemingly random ensemble of harp, clarinet, double bass and singer may sound weird on paper. Yet, it is the exciting prospect that this curious infusion can bring, with commission from new composers, as they go into their fifth year.

Granted most of the programme was the same from their NightMusic set at St David’s Hall, but it was very welcome to be heard again. They were also the first musicians we heard in Cardiff (to the best of my knowledge) to bring some centenary Leonard Bernstein to our “wonderful town”, with a new arrangement of I Hate Music! Their new takes of music already in the canon, is another great USP.

The Quiet Songs from Jeremy Thurlow started as an evocative and austere opening. There was a real sense of urgency in these fleeting songs, each with its own surprising twist. Soprano Heloise Werner makes it all sound so easy, in her affirmed tone and lyricism which creeps in and out of the score, through the French text. The final song inspired by rain, used to great effort the physical tapping of each instruments, as the bangs poured into the hall. Hymn to Hermes by Joseph Davies is fitting music for the players, ancient Greek inspired music and some what prickly, moody even. Some highlights include the harpist making her instrument sound as if it were a lyre or cimbalom, perhaps. It seemed to have work better when last heard (Lefal 3 is a very different acoustic). Perhaps it was the intimate setting last time, which held a grip on the piece.

Alex Mills’ work Samsāra saw its creation on graph paper (a world away from standard notation) and has a trance like mood. Here most of the players get to muck about with some percussion and the harpist (the amazing Anne Denholm) even gets to use a bow on her bass string and a mallet to strike higher ones, though in the latter the sound difference from finger strikes would sound similar. The theme is the restless motion of the soul and the piece glides with strident changes in colour and timbre, rarely loosing its mystic fog of zen. Hearing their version (by mesmeric clarinetist Oliver Pashley) of Peter Maxwell Davies’ Farewell to Stromness is a serene, melodic interlude from an otherwise heated song cycle. This arrangement has a lovely glow to it and does cleanse the palate between the otherwise newer and denser music.

A chirpy mood bleed into the next piece: I am Happy Living Simply and The end of the ending. These newish songs by Emma Hall are as delightful as hearing them the first time. The Russian poems are here brought to life with a sparse and zesty framework that puts smiles to faces and possibly tears in eyes. Marianne Schofield on double bass, accompanies the song with her instrument in accessible ways with plucking and firm bowing. The first is faster and expresses some views on how to live, whilst the second is more a mediation on leaving and how conclusions.

In this concert we also finally get to hear their version of Double Fiesta by Meredith Monk. It’s a joyous, minimalist feat for singer and originally two pianos. There are nonsense words and phrases (the words “Ah, vacation!” linger for some reason), looping vowels and near shrieking frequent the singer’s lips. It’s hold on us as an audience is through a hurried pace and airy expressiveness, which cleanses as much as it enthrals.

Perhaps a third visit back here would be in the cards for early 2019?

Want to hear more Bernstein? Weeping Tudor Productions present Bernstein Bash! at St Edward’s Church, Cardiff on Saturday 1st December 2018. Join us for songs from West Side Story, Candide and other shows. Expect recital songs and also stimulating piano piece. Join us for the rumble! Book here:

This review is supported by the Wales Critic Fund.

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