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Quirky Humour

Uri Caine meets Sinfonia Viva,
and MIKE WHEELER listens


New York jazz pianist Uri Caine has become particularly known for his re-creations of music by Mahler, Mozart, Wagner and Bach. His take on Beethoven's Diabelli Variations was written for performance with Concerto Köln in 2001; Derby-based Sinfonia Viva joined him for its UK première (Assembly Rooms, Derby, UK, 21 October 2008).

Caine is irrepressibly inventive, like someone continually pointing out interesting and unsuspected new features of the landscape when you've scarcely had time to take the last one in. So there were not only the products of Beethoven's fertile imagination to absorb. Caine constantly shot off on unexpected tangents. Who else would have the nerve to take the first movement of Beethoven's 5th Symphony and explore its potential as a waltz? Or slip in a reference to Tristan and Isolde in Variation 18?

It wasn't all quirky humour; there was elegance, and expressiveness as well. In the light, feathery Variation 17 Caine seemed to be barely even touching the keys, while he found some intriguing East European inflections in No 28. Viva's players seemed to be enjoying their share of the dialogue throughout.

The concert opened with the world première of Caine's Motormouth, for piano and orchestra, the first of a series of short works that Viva are commissioning from various composers. As the title suggests, it is a hyperactive scherzo, beginning and ending with swirling woodwind, finally pouncing on an unexpected chord.

In the version for string orchestra, Beethoven's Grosse Fuge can too easily become just a lumbering juggernaut, but conductor André de Ridder encouraged Viva to keep it lean and crisp. There was no shortage of truculence when required, but there was tenderness too, and the scherzo-like section became positively skittish.

Caine ended the first half with his distinctive re-working of the first movement of Mozart's C major Piano Sonata, K545, typically witty and inventive, with a delicious bitonal moment in the first section repeat.

Copyright © 1 November 2008 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK



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