Friday, 22 March 2013

Review: Tine Thing Helseth with Kathryn Stott at Live at LICA

Tine Thing Helseth

Tine Thing Helseth
with Kathryn Stott
at Live at LICA
Thursday, 21 March 2013
in the Great Hall,
Lancaster University
Reviewed by Sally Ryde

The billing of this event was misleading. The word ‘with’ suggests that the inclusion of Kathryn Stott was in some sense less significant. The word that should have been used in the billing was  ‘and’,  implying the equal statuses of Stott and Helseth, because this final concert in the Live at LICA season was characterised by the shared brilliance of these two talented performers. Possibly the wording was driven by a desire to promote the budding career of Helseth, who has only just begun to market recordings. In contrast, Stott has been performing and recording at the highest level for over 30 years.

Kathryn Stott
Photo by 
Jonathan Wilkinson
It is curious to note that these two artists’ levels of experience are separated by a whole lifetime (or half a lifetime, depending on which lifetime provides the unit of measure). Stott was winning a prize at Leeds in the 1978 piano competition when Helseth was minus 10 years old. It is not clear when they first met but it seems that they formed a performing partnership very quickly. This has developed to the extent that Stott has participated in the commissioning “on behalf of ... Helseth” of one of the works in Thursday night’s programme, which itself is part of the duo’s current recital  tour.

The commissioned work was Graham Fitkin’s ‘Helical Strake’. Stott introduced the piece by saying that her first experience of playing a piece by Fitkin made her resolve never to go near his work again because it was so demanding to play! Happily, she changed her mind and we the listeners were the fortunate beneficiaries. The piece was the best of the evening’s programme. The work thrived on the percussive nature of the piano and rhythmically challenged both the performers and their audience.

Stott termed it  “controlled turbulence”.  Without a doubt, she could not have completed her part without the help of her page turner. There was no break in the demands made on her hands by the notes on the page. Meanwhile Helseth’s part required the insertion of rhythmic punches into the wild texture being laid down by the piano. One felt at times that the two parts must surely contain instructions to the players like, “Meet up at the end of bar 64”  and  “When you think it is all coming apart, have faith that it will right itself at the end of bar 128.”  The two performers celebrated the successful conclusion of the piece with a warm hug and a well-earned, much-needed but brief off-stage rest. This reviewer would have loved dearly to have heard the piece played again. (By the way, a helical strake helps to prevent the adverse effects of resonance caused by vortex shedding, if you didn't know already.)

Helseth returned to the stage with a different trumpet for the Hindemith sonata: a B-flat instrument. She then seemed to want to explain why she had swapped from the trumpet in C but stopped short of educating the audience on the fundamental pitch of a length of tubing and the principles determining the choice of instrument for the performance of a piece in any particular key. Perhaps she was influenced by the recollection that modern trumpets are so well made that the selection of instrument pitch no longer has the same significance that it once had. That Helseth appeared to prefer the trumpet in C for all the other pieces in the programme raised the question as to why she had bothered to swap instruments for the Hindemith.

A trumpet can sometimes sound flat even when it is played exactly on pitch. Could this be the reason that Helseth had a propensity for commencing long notes above their tonal centres and then allowing the pitch to settle downwards? The only times that this caused any conflict was when the piano (the tuning of which is fixed) had to join an already-sounding note of the trumpet. In those instances, Helseth would resolve the conflicting pitches by matching hers to the piano’s note.

The second half of the concert was given over to instrumental transcriptions of songs, commencing with an antiphonal performance of a setting by Ravel of a text from the Jewish prayer book. We at first thought Kathryn Stott would be performing ‘Kaddisch’ alone. Then we heard Tine Helseth’s trumpet from somewhere at the back of the hall. This raised a question of concert etiquette. Was an audience permitted to turn and face the off-stage performer? No one seemed prepared to test his or her conviction. Mercifully, Tine moved forward during the piece, which finished just as she reached the piano, leaving the question open for another time.

In all the transcriptions, including five Sibelius, seven de Falla and three Weill songs, the trumpet was used lyrically rather than in the more tradition fanfare style. This was a welcome surprise and Helseth was entirely comfortable with using the melodic properties of her instrument. The pair did, however, play an exciting encore that allowed Helseth at last to demonstrate that she too could set off fireworks with the best of them. As usual Stott’s accompaniment was faultlessly solid.

Yes, the billing of the concert as ‘Helseth with Stott’ was certainly misleading. ‘Helseth and Stott’ would have been better. This reviewer would in fact have preferred ‘Stott and Helseth’ and confesses that, although she thoroughly enjoyed Tine Helseth’s performance, she would seize any opportunity to hear Kathy Stott play, particularly if she were at the keyboard of this venue’s extraordinary Steinway concert grand.

PS - Will someone please tune that Yamaha upright in the foyer!

S. Ryde

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