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Byline: John Gough

BIRMINGHAM CONTEMPORARY MUSIC GROUP CBSO Centre, Birmingham ????? HHHHH It was a joy to encounter a totally new sound in this concert - from a Chinese instrument at least 3,000 years old.

The Sheng is actually a sonorous mouthorgan, vertically held, its keys grouped all the way around its circumference, and it is capable of the widest range of nuances, from the mightiest weight of a pedal-organ to the most delicate of whispers, and Wu Wei brought all his skills and natural musicality to these two performances featuring this wonderful instrument.

Commissioned by BCMG from its recent apprentice composer-in-residence Donhgoon Shin, Anecdote is in fact a three-movement mini-concerto for Sheng and ensemble, endearingly autobiogaphical. Sheng and western instruments blearily remember a boozy night out, coalescing in tone and texture, there are lively incidents along the way, and an extended solo cadenza eventually finds the Sheng joined by ritualistic untuned drums, resonant of the composer's Korean homeland.

Wu Wei (surely as great a genius on his Sheng as was Larry Adler on his harmonica) was joined by cellist Ulrich Heinen and percussionist Julian Warburton for The Wind Sounds in the Sky by Chinese composer Jia Guoping. This three-way conversation progressed with a purposeful sense of direction, magical ruminations contrasting with genuine energy until its fading conclusion, and revealing so many of the Sheng's amazing capabilities.

These oriental works were framed by two pieces by the English composer Rebecca Saunders, now firmly embedded in the European fashion for slow-moving, slowly-shifting timbres. Her Crimson - Molly's Song 1, James Joyce-inspired, conducted here by Julien Leroy, and Murmurs, no conductor, but with collages of tiny groups scattered around the audience, seemed to be saying much of the same thing for a total of nearly an hour, a rare example of rhythmic life coming from the cross-stringing of violinist Philip Brett, making us yearn for Scheherazade, and a return to the East.

Christopher Morley PETER DONOHOE Royal Birmingham Conservatoire HHHHH A former winner and more recently jury member of Moscow's Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition, Peter Donohoe has always been closely attuned to Russian music. This totally involving evening of romantic music gave us a major Tchaikovsky rarity, alongside more familiar fare.

Donohoe's relish for acute contrasts makes him an ideal interpreter of Schumann. He opened with the youthful "Abegg Variations", before launching into a ferocious performance of the composer's "Toccata ". With its ceaseless semiquavers, superhuman octaves, forests of chromaticisms, and conflicting cross-rhythms, this was thoroughly exhilarating, and a demonstration that Donohoe's technique has such thoroughbred robustness that no music seems to hold any fears for it.

The large-scale, majestic "Grande Sonate in G major" is Tchaikovsky's most significant solo work for piano, but it is rarely played. Donohoe obviously believes in it, and he gave an intense, powerful, and thoroughly absorbing performance.

After the interval came the best account of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an exhibition" I have ever heard in concert. All of Donohoe's special gifts of colour, energy and power gave a clear vision for each movement to shape their individual characters. The Promenades between each picture were coloured differently at every appearance each leading us to the next delight, and the whole work moved inexorably from its entrance to its finale as The Great Gate of Kiev opened majestically, with a tumult of bells surrounding its Russian Orthodox incantations.

John Gough
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 28, 2019
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