Side by Side
Royal Academy of Music Students [Christopher Vettraino (oboe), Silvia Bettoli, Johan Stone (horns), Magdalena Riedl (violin), Gordon Cervoni (viola)], Members of the Nash Ensemble – Adrian Brendel (cello), Alasdair Beatson (piano)
Colin Matthews Time Stands Still (2004)
Balency-Bearn Entre-Deux (2022)
Alberga No-Man’s-Land Lullaby (1996)
Keting before we were ocean (2021)
Colin Matthews Dual (2021)
Abrahamsen Congratulations Greeting (2022)
Claire Booth (soprano), Mark Padmore (tenor), Nash Ensemble [(Philippa Davies (flute), Gareth Hulse (oboe), Richard Hosford, Marie Lloyd (clarinets), Richard Watkins (horn), Sally Pryce (harp), Benjamin Nabarro, Michael Gurevich (violins), Lars Anders Tomter, Jennifer Stumm (violas), Adrian Brendel (cello), Graham Mitchell (double bass), Alasdair Beatson (piano)] / Martyn Brabbins
Casken Misted Land (2017)
Colin Matthews Seascapes (2021)
Anderson Van Gough Blue (2015); Three Songs (2018-22) [World Premiere of THUS]
Benjamin Viola, Viola (1997)
Turnage A Constant Obsession (2007)
Wigmore Hall, London
Tuesday 28 March 2023 (5pm and 7.30pm)
Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse
It has become such a fixture on the London calendar that Nash Inventions, given annually by the Nash Ensemble at Wigmore Hall, could easily be taken for granted. As tonight’s concert proved, however, the range and quality of those works performed is anything but predictable.
His long-time drawing inspiration from the landscape of the North-East might suggest Misted Land as a ready-made title for John Casken. Yet this quintet for clarinet and strings focusses on emotion as much, if not more than evocation by unfolding from the intangible impressions of its initial movement, via impulsive contrasts of its intermezzo, to a finale whose visceral progress is curtailed by a timely return to the initial equivocation. Richard Hosford made the most of his alternately insinuating and forceful writing in a piece that well deserved revival.
Although settings by Michael Tippett early on confirmed the musicality of his verse, Sidney Keyes (1922-43) has been relatively little set – making this selection by Colin Matthews in Seascapes the more welcome. From the unforced rhetoric of The Island City, it takes in the fleeting sensations of From : North Sea and the tense rumination of Night Estuary; a brief Interlude leading to the heartfelt expression of Seascape – one of Keyes’s greatest poems, in which Claire Booth’s commanding eloquence (above) more than vindicated the cycle as a whole.
Last in an informal trilogy centred on the colour, Van Gough Blue sees Julian Anderson pay tribute to this artist in a sequence traversing dawn to night. A speculative emergence of sound and texture in l’Aube, soleil naissant precedes the heady rhythmic and melodic interplay of Les Vignobles then mounting animation of Les Alpilles. Nothing, though, prepares for the inward rapture of Eygalières or the dance toward destruction of la nuit, peindre les étoiles: pieces wholly characteristic of this composer and as finely realized as anything he has written.
Further music by Anderson followed the interval – three in an ongoing series for soprano and ensemble identical to, but very different in usage from, that of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. The viscerally sensual overload of Mallarmé’s Le Tombeau d’Edgar Poe (here made a tribute to Debussy in the centenary of his death) contrasted with the disarming sincerity of le 3 Mai – an email by composer Ahmed Essyad written during the pandemic, then lines by Longfellow in THUS – Claire Booth here enacting what is less a setting than a musical riposte to its text.
Writing what had become a tribute to Takemitsu 18 months after his death, George Benjamin turned what might have reflected the viola’s innate introspection into an intensive exploration by two of these instruments of how they might discover rhythmic then melodic and harmonic accord. Music diverse in content and logical in its unfolding, its technical challenges remain considerable – making this performance by Jennifer Stumm (having replaced Timothy Ridout at short notice) and Lars Anders Tomter the more engaging through its audible conviction.
It might come a fair way back in his sizable output, but the song-cycle A Constant Obsession remains among Mark-Anthony Turnage’s finest vocal works. This reflection on ‘love’ – what it might be, what it becomes and what it could have been – is articulated across five settings of Keats, Hardy, Edward Thomas, Graves and Tennyson; its course predicted in a ‘Prologue’ and encapsulated in the bleakly humorous final poem. Mark Padmore (above) conveyed its measure now as 14 years before, as did Martyn Brabbins (below) with his attentive and unobtrusive direction.
The early evening slot brought together players from the Nash and Royal Academy of Music. Entre-Deux saw Andrea Balency-Béarn opening out the timbral and harmonic space between pitches with discreet elegance, and No-Man’s-Land Lullaby found Eleanor Alberga working toward a totemic melody with combative fervency. Sun Keting contributed music laced with nostalgia but also indignation in before we were ocean while, in Congratulations Greeting, Hans Abrahamsen commemorated the RAM’s bicentenary in lively and resourceful terms.
Colin Matthews provided a more quixotic take on that event in the subtle contrasted sections of Dual, with his music also opening and concluding this selection. Time Stands Still marked Simon Rattle’s 50th birthday in (surprisingly?) inward and even inscrutable terms, while 23 Frames marked the 30th anniversary of the Nash through that number of miniatures whose character felt as distinctive as their order was random. The outcome found this composer as his most entertaining, with no complaints if several ‘frames’ exceeded their 30-second remit.
A lengthy evening, then, and an impressive showcase for the Nash in term of marking those achievements past or present. Now is hardly the time for any complacency regarding events such as this, which remains a template for what is possible in matters of artistic excellence.
Click here for the Nash Ensemble website, and here for the Royal Academy of Music