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Venus Blazing
Stars glinted in a crimson and cobalt splashed nightscape, the Baroque grandeur of the dome of All Saints Church on Newcastle's Quayside magically transformed into a warm and inviting elliptical planetarium. A white painted face emerged from the darkness, recounting the scientific and literary significance of Venus, and concluding with the hearty entreaty, "Enjoy your journey". Thus Deirdre Gribbin herself launched the world premiere of her new violin concerto, Venus Blazing. Inspired by the mysticism of the brightest star, it featured visual direction from Lou Stein and lighting design by Jeff Ravitz. The composer's Expressionist zeal for her project extended to luminous costume designs as well as the creation of an intense and often beautiful large-scale work.

Bradley Creswick brought total commitment and stunning accuracy to a demanding solo violin part that he had assimilated into his blood stream and drilled into his fingers. Whether articulating stratospheric lines of cool grace in the opening Aphrodite Terra movement, vaulting pristine motifs over primordial side drum and timpani rolls during the central Istar, or dashing off a wild Gypsy jig in the finale, his passionate involvement and virtuoso technique compelled admiration. Judging from the prodigiously inventive solo part, a series of pieces for unaccompanied violin should be commissioned from the composer.

Tutti passages, though infrequent, made a strong impression, especially the four seismic explosions percolating through the players like cosmic depth charges. The Northern Sinfonia responded enthusiastically to such poetic touches. Lighting effects were unobtrusive; the ending, however, with the players slowly eclipsed as detuned strings drooped and slid out of earshot, like paint streaking down the musical canvas, made a satisfyingly theatrical fade-out.

The conductor, Susanna Mälkki, effectively sustained the concerto's many long, measured lines, while also investing its livelier passages with an urgent, rhythmic bite. Overloaded as an "event", but providing a brilliant showcase for the talents of Bradley Creswick, Venus Blazing reaffirms Deirdre Gribbin as a charismatic and intriguing new voice in contemporary music.


Bradley Creswick/Northern Sinfonia,
All Saints Church, Newcastle

6 February 2002 The Independent
Paul Conway

  © 2005 Deirdre Gribbin  
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