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A recital by Miriam Brickman,
reviewed by MALCOLM MILLER


A capacity audience enjoyed the piano music of Ronald Senator interpreted by his wife, the American pianist Miriam Brickman, at the first concert of the second season of BPSE concerts at the Foundling Museum, Brunswick Square, London UK, on 4 September 2008. Senator, composer and educator, is best known for his Holocaust Requiem, Kaddish for Terezin (1986), an acclaimed and much-televised oratorio for cantor, choir and orchestra based on children's poetry from Terezin.

Childhood creativity formed the focus of the works performed by Ms Brickman, though here in line with the theme of the series 'Beethoven and Youth', selections from six contrasting collections of Senator's character pieces picturesquely evoking childhood scenes whilst at the same time exploring textures and colours as pianistic studies.

Throughout Ronald Senator's works the range of expression was telling, elusive and evocative harmony adding to the descriptive character of the works, which like miniature studies, explored the sonorities of the instrument with intriguing involvement. The idiom suggested echoes of Bartók, Britten, Shostakovich, Penderecki perhaps, with more contemporary Anglo-American influences such as Copland or Carter, in the use of quartal harmony, exploration of various intervallic shapes such as tritones, and ostinato patterns that intermingle with contrapuntally clear linear writing.

Some of the works end questioningly, suspended in philosophical half lights, and with inward lyricisms, such as the flowing textures and delicate tracery of 'Branches of Blossom' and 'Narcissus' in the set Flowers, the whole tone harmonies of 'Buds Bursting'. Some are very sharp edged, and often wittily entertaining, such as the spirited 'Grasshopper', from Insects, with its widely leaping arabesques, the melifluously lyrical 'Ladybird' followed by the stomping, menacing 'Killer Ants'. Especially pictorial were the spiralling sequences of arpeggios in 'Trapeze' from Circus, the spiky 'grupetti' of 'Clowns' or the fierce octaves of 'Lion Tamer', replete with imaginative whip cracks and an unexpected serene ending suggesting the lions had finally gone to sleep.

The evocative canvases of 'Jogging in Central Park' and 'Skating' from Manhattan were capped by the catchy ragtime style 'Thanksgiving Turkey Trot' that elicited peals of audience laughter. The more abstract and impressionistic tableaux of Senator's Mobiles, 'Whirls', 'Currents' and 'Wings' evoked the more dour chromaticism and near atonality of Senator's former teacher Wellesz, while we returned to the witty idiom in the concluding set, Seaside Holiday. Here, 'Carousel', 'Crabs on the Beach' and the brighter modal harmonies of 'Waves in Sunlight', reached a colourful climax in the trilling flight of 'Kite in the Breeze', and fizzing humour of 'The Big Dip' in which textures mimicked the rise and fall of chords and glissandi, taking us on a thrilling musical rollercoaster.

The contemporary works were framed by three Beethoven pieces chosen for their appeal to young pianists, starting with a beautifully rendered Für Elise WoO 59, a work dating from 1810, the heart of Beethoven's middle period, in which Ms Brickman drew caressing and supple phrasing and a mellow timbre from the Broadwood Grand piano. Her jaunty account of the Ecossaise in E flat WoO 86 -- a work for the young yet composed as late as 1825 -- came midway between the Senator sets, whilst the programme was rounded off by Beethoven's melodious Rondo in C Op 51 No 1 dating from 1800-1, in which the 'minore' episodes were impelled with just the right touch of intensity and angst.

There was just enough time for an encore, a repeat of the catchy 'Thanksgiving Turkey Trot'. All Senator's piano collections are available on CD played by Miriam Brickman, coupled with Poulenc's Barbar the Elephant.

Copyright © 15 September 2008 Malcolm Miller, London UK


Forthcoming BPSE Concerts at London's Foundling Museum - 'Beethoven and Youth' Series on the first Thursday of each month at 1pm:

2 October 2008: the Greenwich Trio -
Early Beethoven Chamber Music

6 November 2008: Alberto Portugheis, piano -
Beethoven's early Bonn sonatas as sonatinas

4 December 2008: Malcolm Miller, piano and friends -
Beethoven and Youth - early piano and chamber works from the Bonn years.


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