Kings Place still feels like a relative newcomer among London’s many (perhaps more than enough) concert halls, and sometimes struggles to be noticed. But its fine acoustic draws significant events. And last week brought two world-class concerts on successive nights.
One was the Dante Quartet playing Janáček and Mendelssohn as though their lives depended on it: urgent, fervent, catching the neurotic fierceness of the former and the substance (easily forgotten) of the latter. But what made this concert was the premiere of a song cycle for baritone and string quartet by Jonathan Dove that turned out to be captivating.
Called Who wrote the Book of Love? it set a sequence of texts by the poet Alasdair Middleton which explored the conditions of love won, lost or discarded in a playful but acute way. Enigmatic, aphoristic, parodistic, skimming lightly through historic precedents, they were words asking for music that skimmed likewise. And they made a perfect platform for the shape-shifting, chameleon quality in Dove’s work: something that has previously bothered me as masking his own voice, though this was different.
Where the poems called for parody, they got it; but for once, it didn’t hide a sense of self. For all their elegance and artfulness, these settings came with simple, heartfelt vulnerability, authentic and compelling. I was totally won over. As I was by the performance from the Dante players and Philippe Sly, the young Canadian baritone.
He had limitations of technique, with sometimes forced tone and uncertain pitch. But in the classic way of North American singers it was forthright, handsome and direct – with presence/pathos as required. He has a future.
Somebody else who has a future is the young Russian pianist Alexander Karpeyev who, the next night, held his Kings Place audience spellbound with that quintessentially Russian thing of awesome technique in demure, unflustered, almost offhand packaging.
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