CHARLIE PIPER The Dark Hour for septet and narrator
BRAHMS String Sextet in G No.2 Op.36
Tim Horton's performance of Prokofiev's marvellous Seventh Piano Sonata was thoroughly enjoyable and reminded me of his affinity with this repertoire, at times expressionist and elsewhere more classically melodic. The first movement was really engrossing, with Horton's attention to detail showing in its rich sonorities, and in a tantalisingly languid second theme. The difficulties of the Finale were apparent, as it was neither the snappiest nor the most accurate performance, but it was nonetheless brutally effective.
Charlie Piper's The Dark Hour is his third and final commission as MitR's associate composer. The piece finds a narrator reading at length from a genuine diary from the First World War trenches. With all respect to the poor soldier who wrote it, it is a largely factual account, without artistry but with plenty of gory details. The piece seems flawed in its conception; whether you find such texts poignant or uncomfortable, artistic responses to them are sure to be overshadowed by the sheer horror of the events.
Perhaps wary of this, Piper's septet writing was unobtrusive (a little like theatrical underscoring), harmonically quite attractive and rhythmically chuntering along. I cannot say that the music added to or even highlighted the impact of the text. Long excerpts went by with no music at all, and while the diarist's plight became increasingly transparent, Piper's score remained understated, even when lamenting the dead.
Narrator Simon Pontin brought some grim pathos to the role, ultimately nudging this borderline-documentary towards the realm of the theatre-piece.
We'd certainly had the war, and after the interval came the love in the form of a sumptuous, occasionally wobbly but ultimately life-affirming performance of the Brahms Sextet, the effusive climax of the slow movement obliterating all thoughts of the trenches like some cleansing tidal force. Guest string players Sarah-Jane Bradley (viola) and Bjørg Lewis (cello) seemed to enjoy themselves, adding great depth to the sound.