COMPOSERS CAN'T KEEP UP WITH PERCUSSIONIST'S VIRTUOSITY

By Andrew Thompson for Winnipeg Free Press, Sunday, June 1, 2003

Give Her Percussion was the title of GroundSwell's final concert of the season, and it was the most appropriate indeed as Canada's pre-eminent percussionist Beverley Johnston was the guide through an evening of composition by Canadian women composers.

Those who are familiar with Johnston's work know that any concert in which she is involved is self-recommending: her musicality and virtuosity are unquestionable and both were on display to the delight of Saturday night's audience at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church. Of course, the question then became one of content, as the composers on the program needed to provide this virtuoso with enough substance to really do her thing.

Alexina Louie's compositions are often wonderful creations. Her piano pieces are especially evocative and well-developed. And, unfortunately on this night her Cadenza No. 3 was also one of the shortest works on the menu. Written for clarinet, marimba and vibraphone, the work contained some rather evocative rhapsodic flights over the murmurs of the marimba: the Eastern scent of Louie's works was well to the forefront.

It built to a wonderful climax between the vibes and clarinet in some intricate passagework, and then was gone. Clarinetist Pat Daniels and Johnston made a fine pairing.

Alternate Currents is a work for vibraphone and light percussion by Ann Southam -- she actually wrote it especially for Johnston and Johnston's familiarity with it was evident in this fine performance. Her expressive shading and fine accenting over an interesting bass ostinato actually did give way to a fairly meandering composition, but that might be considered to be somewhat appropriate for a work that was meant to evoke the meanderings of a river.

Martha Durkin turned in a fine solo performance in Hope Lee's forever after. This piece, while expressive and full of enough effects to make Roland Kirk proud, really did not have much substance to it. But Durkin's effort was unwavering as she navigated the slurs, bends, over-blowing and muttering phrases.