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REVIEW: The Riot Ensemble ‘Songs & Haiku’

the riot ensemble, Claudia Maria Racovicean, celeste cronje,

We’ve heard much about contemporary music performers The Riot Ensemble, and this evening we finally got a chance to hear what all the noise was about.  And splendid noise it was!

Favourite of the night was Lutoslawski’s ‘Five Songs’, each telling blustery tales of ‘The Sea’ ‘The Wind’ ‘Winter’ ‘Knights’ and ‘Church Bells’.  Despite this being very much a 20th Century piece – there is something very traditional in the Renaissance inspired word painting.  You can literally feel the movement of the sea in the piano lines, shiver at the gales destroying a city and be soothed by the bells voiced so beautifully on the piano.

The success of all these ‘difficult’ pieces is in no small part due to the fantastic work of Soprano Celeste Cronje and pianist Claudia Maria Racovicean.  The two work well: it is a great privilege to see great friends perform together.  Cronje’s rich, warm and expressive voice suited the repertoire of these international composers well.  Racovicean’s absolute precision and innate musicality provided coherence and beauty in what could have been very muddy waters.

Key to The Riot Ensemble’s ethos is bringing this repertoire to new audiences and to make it, to use a buzzword forever battled with and argued over, ‘Accessible’.  But there was no dumbing down in repertoire choice (see below), or patronising the audience with detailed explanations of why the tonality in a certain bar represented the inner repressed psyche.  Instead – Cronje delightfully paralleled the ‘menu’ of music on the billing as fine food, carefully and thoughtfully prepared for you to consume, each different, each individual.  If you didn’t like it – fine – just taste!

Alongside this, translations were projected onto a screen with a background of artist Mark Rothko’s paintings changing colours. This was almost sensory overload for the aesthetically driven among us.  However – a wise insertion of the Cage Haiku again after the Lutoslawski acted as Cronje put it, as a ‘palette clenser’ – time for us to re-set.

Flautist Kate Walter brought energy to the Suckling Haikus, the comically short Jonathan Harvey ‘Haiku’ (literally an arpeggiaic  flourish) was emphasised by the beautiful cheeky smile Racovicien had on her face after she played it.  This was followed by  Huw Watkins‘ ‘Three Auden Songs’: three very different songs rich in variety and range, three small scenes into the perception of the human mind.  We had the honour of having the composer in the house.

We can’t quite figure out how – but we know it was all masterfully brought together by Aaron Holloway-Nahum – and thus he deserves a well-earned mention.

There’s so much more we could say.  In just an hour long concert we were given so much to ‘eat’ that we were full to bursting – but still wondering at the beauty of all consumed.

Looking forward to the next one!


Full Programme

John Cage: Haiku

Witold Lutoslawski: Five Songs – The Sea, The Wind, Winter, Knights, Church Bells

György Ligeti: Három Weöres-dal – The Moon is dancing in a white robe, A cluster of fruit, A merchant has come with giant birds

Martin Suckling: Three Venus Haiku

Marc Hyland: In Thy Beauty

György Ligeti: Der Sommer

Jonathan Harvey: Haiku

Huw Watkins: Three Auden Songs – Brussels in Winter, Eyes look into the well, At last the secret is out