London, Purcell Room: New French Song
‘I haven't heard my piece yet, none of us have’, confided thirtysomething composer Will Todd as he arrived to take his place in the audience at the Purcell Room on 13 July. He spoke as one of the twenty British composers, all alive and well, commissioned by artists Alison Smart (soprano) and Katharine Durran (piano) to set a French poem for them to perform. Unusually, the composers had to submit their scores as if ‘tablets from on high’, without rehearsal input. Although this worked well as they all entered into the spirit, and the artists seemed particularly adept at interpretation over a wide range of genres – from Graham Fitkin's mimimalist-style ‘Les Aliments Blancs’ (Satie: ‘je ne mange que des aliments blancs’), to John Casken's impressionistic ‘Colloque Sentimental’, with its shades of Debussy – having such a swift succession of 20 short ‘soundbites’ made for a rather over intense programme overall. Perhaps, on another occasion, a concentration on no more than ten composers, would allow for rehearsal time with each to assist in conveying more in-depth interpretation of the text, and give the audience more time to absorb each contribution.