Piano: Annea Lockwood and Luc Ferrari played by Xenia Pestova Bennett

Monday 4 November 2019

Circumstances and temperament conspired so that I hadn’t been to a gig in ages. Broke the drought last week with two piano recitals: Philip Thomas with the launch of his celebrated Morton Feldman box set at Music We’d Like To Hear (more about these later), preceded by a free recital at City University by Xenia Pestova Bennett.

It was a great programme, focusing on the lesser known piano pieces of Annea Lockwood and Luc Ferrari (no she didn’t set fire to the instrument.) She opened with a startling interpretation of John Cage’s Dream, careful to articulate clean stops and occasional abrupt changes in rhythm, making it more disturbing and harder to grasp than the usual fey wash of sweetness it is typically presented as these days. Lockwood’s RCSC and Red Mesa are more obdurate works, built out of sequences of discrete gestures and sounds using a variety of techniques. It takes a fine sense of timing and balancing of contrasts to make these pieces work as cohesive musical experiences, and Pestova Bennett managed this admirably, even as she was obliged by the composer to rapidly alternate between sitting at the keyboard and standing over the strings to pluck and scrape.

Ferrari’s Collection de petites pi√®ces, ou 36 enfilades from the mid 80s remains a mystery. I’ve had a CD of this for years and treated much like some of his other work for musicians and tape, an episodic magazine of events and recurring themes; but it’s so hard to pin down and my memory of it always remained vague. Hearing it live both helped and hindered. Some pieces last only a few seconds, while others feature no piano at all. The opening piece reappears in several variations, but give only the illusion of continuity. The tape (cued directly by Pestova Bennett on a laptop) alternates between verit√© field recording and obnoxious pop – again a Ferrari custom, but the fragmented nature makes it all seem deliberately directionless. You get used to finding his grandiose musical non sequiturs evading a deliberate point while suggesting something bigger and more elusive, but this appears to be a rare occasion where any possible connections are deliberately cut. Pestova Bennett played with the deftness that a good Ferrari performance seems to require, making his trivial motifs seem just that, while hiding the difficulties of making such mercurial music seem facile.