Norwich Playhouse Monday 20 May NNFestival 2019
a review by Marion de Mello Catlin
The Colin Currie Quartet played a blinder last night in Norwich Playhouse. I didn’t know about them before the concert and was interested to go to a performance that was all percussion based as the percussion section rarely gets the glory in an orchestra, and I also like the music of Steve Reich. The Playhouse was packed with not a spare seat in the house – great to see such a turnout – obviously many people better informed than me!
The Quartet was formed fairly recently in 2018 by Colin Currie who is clearly completely passionate about percussion and the Quartet. After the first piece (Mallet Quartet by Joseph Perreira) he introduced the Quartet and explained that the composer Steve Reich was very important to the raison d’être of the quartet and that the works pivot around his compositions, with two pieces in the programme by Reich.
It was really helpful to have an in-depth but concise explanation of the basis of each piece, especially for those if us who are not familiar with this kind of music. I wish that more musicians would do that – Currie was good at it. The stage was full with instruments I hadn’t seen before – marimbas it turns out – two with long pipes and two with shorter, 4 musicians each with two ‘lollipop’ drumsticks in each hand, four per person. At times, the playing was so complex and blended that it was hard to discern the source of the sound. The marimbas’ deep tones flowed together, especially the bass instruments and sounded almost electronic.
Colin played a couple of numbers on his own Xenakis’ Rebonds B for solo percussion and Stockhausen’s Vibra-Elufa. Together they played Kevin Volans Four Marimbas and Reich’s Mallet Quartet before the last piece Reich’s Drumming Part 1.
The speed rhythm and energy was impressive throughout the evening, though none of the first 5 pieces could come near the finale piece Drumming Part 1 composed by Steve Reich. It was like the Olympics of percussion in its performance and virtuosity. Colin explained the basis of the piece, a simple (on its own) basic rhythm underpinning the whole piece beaten out on 8 tuned drums, again 4 musicians working together and in relays. The same 12 notes as a single rhythm repeated which, as an audience member was a godsend at times as it enabled me to find a point to return to and steady path throughout. Colin explained phasing and how the notes interlock and rotate around each other which really helped the appreciation of the piece.
Musically it was interesting, visually it was fascinating – watching the percussionists work in waves, first all together then periodically standing back, their arms working at blurring speed throughout. Physically, it was a feat of musicianship, almost unbelievable and breathtaking technical skill rivalling the most extreme of acrobats, daredevil motorcyclists or demanding magical coordination and muscular energy. I can’t tell you exactly that it was a lovely piece of music as I was bewitched and hypnotised by the technical skill. After what seemed an eaon of performance, they reached a crescendo and then instantly stopped with a resounding and precise ‘crack’, absolutely as one. In the drumming Olympics, then there is absolutely no doubt that they ran away with the Gold.
If you missed it, or want to listen to a sample there’s a YouTube link below but I would recommend catching a live performance if you ever get the chance. The Quartet is new and this is their debut programme so it is worth watching out for more as they add to their repertoire – they have an amazing future I am sure and hopefully will be back in Norwich before too long.