Ripieno Players

CGHRISTOPHER MORLEY GOES BACK IN TIME AND MEETS MUSICAL HOPE FOR THE FUTURE

RIPIENO PLAYERS
Medicine Art Gallery, New Street ****
It was like going back in time, almost half a century since I was last in what was then the RBSA Gallery, home in those days to a charming series of chamber and vocal recitals.
It's still just as welcoming, now with home-baked bread and cakes greeting the visitor at the top of the elegant staircase, and with an acoustic which is clear and immediate, but which needs plenty of TLC.
And for this crusty old time-travelling critic it was a joy to be immersed in the performances of this talented young string ensemble, largely Royal Birmingham Conservatoire-drawn at a guess (the programme gave no provenance), under the confident and empowering direction of Joe Davies. He is certainly a conductor with something to say, and one to watch out for; I'm afraid I haven't been able to say the same for all the wannabes I've seen come and go over 50 years.
The offerings were off-the-beaten-track (though I would love to hear the Ripieno in Grieg's Holberg Suite, especially as they play standing up, like Brahms' Meiningen Orchestra), beginning with the premiere of Victoria Benito's This is Only a Work of Fiction/ This is another Work of Fiction but in a Sweet Way.
Each of the 17 strings has an individual contribution to make to these stellarly unfolding textures, not least in the busy double-handed pizzicato required of many of them. Retro-looking aleatoricism evokes Lutoslawski and Penderecki, but the work makes a firm impression. A word of advice to the composer, however: don't insult your audience with a flip, surreal biography of yourself ("I was born when just a baby", and so on), which probably does more harm than good.
Soprano Imogen Russell was the warm, creamy, beautifully-articulating soloist (if occasionally overbalanced by the orchestra) in six Lieder by Clara Schumann. One wonders if Davies himself orchestrated these, as well as the Traumerei by Robert Schumann which led directly into Mahler's resourceful string orchestra arrangement of Schubert's Death and the Maiden Quartet.
This was powerfully and gratefully conveyed, but not even the enthusiasm of these young performers could disguise the fact that here yet again we have one of Schubert's paid-by-the-note tarantella finales.
Christopher Morley

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