A familiar figure at the Presteigne Festival, Joe Duddell is this year’s composer-in-residence, with performances of six works during the last few days. Monday saw the world premiere of his latest, Nightswimming, for piano trio.
The title is borrowed from a 1992 song by the rock band R.E.M., although Duddell doesn’t make it clear if his music is based on the song (which apparently is about skinny dipping.) It might well be, as Duddell’s Nightswimming is, like many rock compositions, little more than gradually unfolding variations on a simple chord pattern.
Nevertheless, it provides 15 minutes of easily assimilated music, without actually falling into the category of easy-listening. Textures and rhythmic patterns are explored in interesting ways, and the climactic final section is well developed before a somewhat clichéd back-to-the-beginning coda.
Duddell describes Nightswimming as “playful”, which might explain its lack of harmonic variety and reliance on rhetorical note spinning
The splendid Kungsbacka Trio certainly entered into the spirit of the piece: pianist Simon Crawford-Phillips mustered a wealth of meaning from his endless broken chords, while violinist Malin Broman and cellist Jesper Svedberg gave expressive depth and breadth to this (let’s be honest) shallow music.
Beethoven and Schubert gave them much more to work with. Beethoven’s Kakadu Variations, with Crawford-Phillips’ fully nourished tone matched by the creamy sensitivity of his string colleagues, showed perfectly (others please note) how to make a trite tune into something delightfully entertaining, but it was their immaculately shaped reading of Schubert’s joyous Piano Trio in B flat, D898 that brought the best out of these fine players, with smiling phrases, lyrical wistfulness and gutsy freshness present in full measure. A lovely interpretation and delicious performance.