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Thursday, 28 April 2016

A tour of Western musical styles ? : Britten Sinfonia with Benjamin Grosvenor Directs (uncorrected proof)

This is a review of Benjamin Grosvenor Directs Britten Sinfonia in Cambridge

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

28 April

This is a review of the first half (minus the encore)¹ of Benjamin Grosvenor Directs, with Britten Sinfonia led by Jacqueline Shave, at West Road Concert Hall in Cambridge on Wednesday 27 April 2016 at 7.30 p.m.

Programme :

1. Béla Bartók (1881–1945) ~ Second movement from String Quartet No. 2

2. Elena Langer (1974-) ~ Story of an Impossible Love

3. Mozart (1756-1791) ~ Piano Concerto No. 27

1. Bartók ~ Allegro molto capriccioso from String Quartet No. 2 (1917)

The concert began with what one expects from these string-principals of Britten Sinfonia² (@BrittenSinfonia), music-making of a high and expressive order. Here, serving as an energizing prelude to what was to ensue in the works of Elena Langer (and then Mozart), it was much infused, at the outset, with very gypsy-style slurring and intonation.

Yet these mere words do not do justice to trying to describe the fresh tone-colours and nuances of this approach to Bartók, and, although he does bring that material / sound back, they were just part of the quartet’s accent-perfect playing. For – amongst other elements that constitute this compact movement’s make-up – we were also to hear :

* Some very spirited cello-lines from Caroline Dearnley

* Almost Bergian moments of pure hush

* What can only be characterized as pops and squeaks

* Initiated by Dearnley, the eerie hollowness in which the movement concludes, with its spidery or spiky notes

A very idiomatic, and natural, performance of this Bartók movement !

2. Langer ~ Story of an Impossible Love (2016)

This new commission was receiving only its second public performance (with Norwich and London to come – at, respectively, St Andrew’s Hall on Friday 29 April, and Milton Court on Sunday 1 May). Very fleetingly, Elena Langer seemed to open in the same way as an established piece of repertoire, but so much so that one could not place the reference before it had gone :

In what sometimes came to resemble a Concerto Grosso in variation form, we initially experienced -alongside the prime role of the lead violin (Jacqueline Shave) - a strong element of woodwind, cutting through the strings : oboe, flute, bassoon, all very beautifully played.

Rather than attempting to find words to say everything about how the composition continued to make itself known through this performance, it seemed wiser to concentrate on considering its overall sweep in a few observations :

* Some pastiche of Stravinskyesque neoclassicism (not least in the use of the piccolo (played by flautist Ileana Ruhemann) ?)

* Hints of Debussy (and his orchestral style or tone)

* Sparingly effective use of dissonance, or of disruptive sound

One was nearing what one sensed was the end of the work when Jacqueline Shave provided a drone to mix with the woodwind players, especially with the pair of oboes, played by Melinda Maxwell and Emma Feilding, interwoven (or interlocked ?).

Then, in what appeared to be a coda, Shave’s playing was foregrounded in a way that was very reminiscent of Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, with flute and oboe notes audible, before we died away with just her to close.

Alongside these pastoral aspects to the piece, one finds oneself returning to Story of an Impossible Love, the generic title of the work, and a possible connection to what Klaus Beekman’s monograph on Marcel Duchamp says about the work usually known as The Large Glass [the Bride stripped bare by her Bachelors, Even (1915–1923) ] : Let me remind you at this point that the Large Glass relates the story of an impossible love affair between a half-willing virgin and an anxious bachelor.

Be that as it may, Elena Langer was warmly welcomed to the stage at West Road, where she showed her appreciation to the ensemble, and to particular players, not least Jacqueline Shave.

3. Mozart (1756-1791) ~ Piano Concerto No. 27 in B Flat Major, K. 595

1. Allegro

2. Larghetto

3. Allegro

For various reasons, one had been a little hesitant what to expect from Benjamin Grosvenor with Mozart³, but the situations in which ‘home-grown’ artists receive acclaim do differ, as do solo piano recitals on Radio 3 (@BBCRadio3) - and the interpretative choices (or those of programme⁴) that are part of them – from directing a concerto from the keyboard…

If everyone came to a concert for a replica of exactly what he or she already knew about a composer’s world, the result might please them all without really challenging them : with this Piano Concerto, even if all who came on the night specifically wanted to hear Britten Sinfonia, it would have been difficult for them not to come with the preconceptions that arise from familiarity. Before, that is, the keyboard entry in the opening (1) Allegro, and the cadence of a pattern of notes in the strings that changed them, probably having us wonder at its syncopated nature :

Except that, when Grosvenor (@grosvenorpiano) had started playing, we now heard the mimicry of that string-gesture in his part, and we heard brought out (with flute and both oboes at the core) a fanfare in the orchestral writing (which are causes for delight that playing one’s usual CD, or a radio broadcast where the score is not imaginatively re-entered, may not give…).

Similarly, as the movement widened out, the element of ‘call and response’ between Ruhemann (on flute) and Grosvenor had a closeness and impromptu feel to it (which was to pervade the whole Concerto), and, before the close, there were further lovely touches from both Sarah Burnett (bassoon) and her.

In the first part of the (2) Larghetto, which Grosvenor had characterized as with a marking of grazioso, we may soon have sensed that this impression of ‘graciousness’ was not wholly a convention of the Classical era, and that, signalled in the restraint that he brought to his part (and despite very conservative orchestral flourishes), we were not far from being taken to sense the emotional centre of this composition.

It was to prove to give the lie to the oft-quoted assertion that Mozart disliked the flute (made in its context of a commission for Flute Concerti that, for all sorts of reasons, failed to interest him in his youthful days, as against what ended being his final Piano Concerto), with the attentiveness of the eye-contact between Ruhemann and Grosvenor now as patent as the artistry of their musical understanding and interaction.

After flurries of what, because of Mozart’s use of grace-notes, sound like impossible note-values, there was more of the mimicry between flute and piano, and then with oboe, too, in the final (3) Allegro.

In a cadenza, Mozart took the piano soloist into a minor key, and started modulating – with, perhaps, a feeling of a tease, here, as to whether the work of the Concerto might effectively be done at this point ? Instead, he led us to a tutti before bringing flute and bassoon back to the fore, and this is where the Tweeted comment Touching the simplicity beyond the ornate ? had been made in the review-notes :

As we heard another highly modulating cadenza, there was a sense that the mood or will behind the piece (although unacknowledged to itself ?) now stood ‘broken’, and that from here onwards a brave face would be put on it. In all of which, the hall was rapt, carried with Grosvenor both in it, and in and through a closing cadenza, to a firm, positive ending, greeted enthusiastically to close the first half. (Except that Grosvenor was persuaded to give a quiet encore, sadly not heard for having already exited.)


¹ An immense dislike of Richard Strauss (let alone Strauss ‘re-working’ Beethoven), conveniently coupled with the need to make a mercy dash to The Arts Picturehouse (@CamPicturehouse) and back, means that Metamorphosen had been but audible in part, and only via the speakers in the foyer.

² In Jacqueline Shave (first violin), Miranda Dale (second violin), Clare Finnimore (viola), and Caroline Dearnley (cello), we had the same accomplished players who opened a concert by the Sinfonia during a day devoted to the music of Louis #Andriessen (at Milton Court in The Barbican Centre). (One day, and not just at a Sinfonia At Lunch, it would be lovely to hear them give a full recital… !)

³ Somehow, also, one had failed to engage with the meaning of the title ‘Benjamin Grosvenor Directs’, possibly through not mentally switching from Shave’s having directed the new work as leader, or having even construed that both were directing, but in different compositions.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Seeing is just a kind of brightness (work in progress)

This is a review (still in progress) of I am Belfast (2015)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

23 April [Shakespeare Fuss Day¹]

This is a review (still in progress) of I am Belfast (2015)

Don't soften the story !

One might ask what these Tweets have to do with the latest release from Mark Cousins (@markcousinsfilm) – yet, as one watched I am Belfast (2015), one had likewise been unconsciously asking what a character played by Gena Rowlands [Marion Post, in Woody Allen’s Another Woman (1988)] had to do with the world of the troubles, or of the land of 'The Six Counties'… (In fact, it was Helena Bereen whom we saw - and not, of course, Gena Rowlands.)

Gena Rowlands (as Marion Post) in Another Woman (1988)

Selected film references :

* A Story of Children and Film (2013) [Mark C.]

* Atomic (2015) [Mark C.]

* Bag of Rice (Kiseye Berendj) (1998)

* Girl Chewing Gum (1976)

* The Nine Muses (2010)

* What is This Film Called Love ? (2012) [Mark C.]

In fact, it was Helena Bereen whom we saw - and not, of course, Gena Rowlands. After the film, at The Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge (@CamPicturehouse), others disagreed [perhaps @mob61uk @amandarandall5] that Bereen’s being visually, as well as vocally, present to us had been a distraction : it was asserted that she had humanized scenes or situations that Cousins showed to us. Well, of course, it may easily be the case that she was meant to do so. However, the question remained whether her being seen to be present / her presence actually did that (or wholly did so) :

One principal point of contrast is with both seeing Cousins himself in What is This Film Called Love ? (2012), and, in A Story of Children and Film (2013), in his having more than impliedly been there in the film (since he is wielding / setting the camera for his niece and nephew). (In Atomic (2015), we almost certainly do not hear from his voice at all - it is all left to that clipped tone (subtly subverted) of the typical public-information film, or to three title-cards.)

Essentially, in all three earlier cases, the issue was of framing / structuring / telling a story – how it is done, and what follows from it – be it that of [in what is, of course, a crude shorthand of how each film is set out / up] :

* Taking in Mexico City as if through Eisenstein’s eyes / experience (Love)

* Framing, using Cousins’ family footage, his chosen narrative about Children and Film

* Handling being commissioned to make a film with the theme Atomic by a division into Paradise / Paradise Lost / Paradise Regained


Girl Chewing Gum (1976) is relevant, and so referenced, because Cousins does as the narrator there does – drawing attention, as in other places (please see below), to the constructed and artificial nature of cinematic images (and everything to do with how they are created and curated) : as John Smith before him, Cousins causes to be narrated to us³ what is just out of frame, ready for it to appear to have been predicted (as if, magically, the world outside what the camera sees is unknown – probably (as with Smith) after the fact, or perhaps by design). A visual, aural and structural allusion, although there are myriad others, to the world of film :



¹ As evidenced by this exchange of Tweets :

² Not, that is, in a naturalistic (or magical-realist) context – the screen-stage of Dogville (1999), for example, perfectly well alienates (Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt) at the same time as fuelling the imagination. (Which is an approach discussed with Hammudi al-Rahmoun Font, the director of Otel.lo (Othello) (2012), in connection with his film during interviews at Cambridge Film Festival 2014 [@camfilmfest / #CamFF] for TAKE ONE (@TakeOneCinema).)

³ Alike in Cousins’ voice, or in that of Belfast / Bereen, since – as we know, but conveniently [tell ourselves that we] forget – her part was scripted by him (as was his), and all this has but the appearance of a spontaneous encounter and its ensuing dialogue…

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Monday, 18 April 2016

Bach Collegium Japan at Saffron Hall (Part II)

This is Part II of a review of Masaaki Suzuki's Bach Collegium Japan at Saffron Hall

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

17 April

This is (Part II) of a review of the concert given by Bach Collegium Japan, under its founder Masaaki Suzuki, at Saffron Hall (Saffron Walden, Essex) on Sunday 10 April 2016 at 7.30 p.m.

The last of three pieces in the evening’s all-Bach programme [it was preceded by a short Cantata, in the second half, and, in the first, by a longer one] was :

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) ~ Magnificat (in D Major¹), BWV 243

Masaaki Suzuki brought us a sharp and distinct affect to the familiar opening Sinfonia of Bach’s Magnificat (BWV 243¹), the trumpets suitably clear and celebratory, and with Guy Ferber (the principal player of three) deliberately sounding slightly bright.

The momentum was nicely kept up, and one could see Robin Blaze nodding, and so showing his involvement with, and his commitment to, the work in toto – not unusually, as one can likewise see tenor James Gilchrist (@JamesTenorGilch), staying acclimatized to the ambience of Bach’s music². (As it is, though, do all too many vocal soloists just seem to rise for their aria / duo / recitative in general, and do not necessarily feel part of the whole, but maybe an adornment to it, or a needful addition (as no mortal – not just in amateur choirs – can usually match the demands of Bach’s writing) ?)

Other pleasures from the early movements were :

* Soprano Joanne Lunn adopting a position more upstage than in the Cantata in Part I (to come), and, in terms of projection, with a much better result

* Young Suzuki (Masaaki Suzuki’s (@quovadis166’s) son Masato [@eugenesuzuki]) ‘multi-tasking’, in that he often had – with the instruments arranged at right angles (rather than, as many times seen, one on top of the other) – his left hand occupied with playing a harpsichord, the right, meanwhile, with the chamber organ

* Rachel Nicholls (@raenicholls), alongside soulful tones from Masamitsu San’nomiya (on oboe, plus Suzuki Jnr on harpsichord), who (as one already had good reason to know) was very accomplished, and expressed the text seamlessly

Yet, as to seamlessness (and despite much onward energy - with bassist Frank Coppieters keenly and nimbly fretting the instrument’s bottom string), Suzuki chose not to succeed Nicholls' aria for soprano immediately with the Chorus Omnes generationes³ : rather than running it on, he instead gave it to us as if it were a distinct movement in itself, and so, by his not keeping with the sense of the verse, it ceased to be musically and syntactically dependent on the words of the preceding aria (although it appears to have been meant to be indissolubly so⁴ ?).

In truth, a minor cavil, when one well-known recording of the work (which shall remain unnamed) has the aria Quia fecit (for bass and continuo) resemble little more than a ditty with which one might imagine, as it chugs along, a cheerful and friendly whale amusing itself (partly because of how the part for double-bass is rendered) ! Of course, not the impression that BCJ gave of the movement, one can gladly report, but instead that (as with Joanne Lunn's aria, and in an ensemble full of assurance) Dominik Wörner carried himself with more bearing than in Part I, doing justice to the text. Even more true of counter-tenor Robin Blaze (who had been the soloist in the preceding Cantata - please see below), well matched with tenor Colin Balzer : a confident rendition in Et misericordia, with Blaze especially handling the chromaticism / chromatic writing very well, and with sensitive string-playing in the ripieno.

As required, the following Chorus, Fecit potentiam, was very vigorous, with a good sound from the orchestra, well enhanced by the timpani – and with a glorious moment of suspension (an effect heard again in this work - and which, later in Bach’s canon, we may know superbly used in the Mass in B Minor, BWV 232 ?). We were therefore set up to hear from Balzer’s in the aria Deposuit potentes, for tenor voice : all sounding good, with, at times, organ, bassoon and bass continuo ; at others, with strings that were pert and alive.

Esurientes implevit bonis, the central aria of three that Bach gives us consecutively, brought Blaze back down from the row of members of the Chorus (who were arrayed, at the back, on podia – as when The Sixteen (@TheSixteen) had been heard at Saffron Hall). He was joined by both flautists (who moved their music-stands forward to play standing) :

The very pleasing tone and colour of their transverse instruments was part of an overall effect that was simply charming (even if, theologically, one might question Bach’s setting a text that corresponds to The hungry he has filled with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty⁵, and giving it this mood ?). More surely even than in Vergnügte Ruh (the preceding Cantata), Blaze and the instrumental soloists emphasized the light touches, and Suzuki signalled a deft bom, right at the end. And so into the aria Suscepit [Israel puerum suum], a trio of voices with the two oboes, which suspensively took us into other worlds, as Bach is adept at doing (again, he does so in the Mass in B Minor) !

A contrast was thus pointed with the closing movements for Chorus, first Sicut locutus est, with a strong, firm bass-line (supporting violins and cellos), and then - unlike with the transition to Omnes generationes (please see above) - being taken almost straight into text taken from the liturgy (the doxology of the Gloria (and not from Luke’s Gospel)).

Here, Suzuki had his forces / resources hold back - and with the contribution from the Chorus sounding, perhaps, as of the wings of hovering birds ? Then the timpanist (Thomas Holzinger) entered again – and, in a live performance such as this, seeing a percussionist making ready can, through familiarity coupled with anticipation, heighten that moment. [At this venue, it did with Colin Currie Group's all-Reich concert, but was sometimes less of an aid on the occasion when Eddie Gomez played with Britten Sinfonia...]

After a very momentary caesura, we were into the closing section of the Gloria (Sicut erat in principio), re-energizing us both through the impact of a full and dramatic conclusion, and with our recollection of the rejoiceful tone (jauchzend) with which the Magnificat had begun.

It was evident that everyone was well pleased with the culmination of the concert in the familiar guise of this joyful work, and to have had the Collegium, and Suzukis father and son, in their midst :

The former had been heartily hailed when first seen on stage, and his musicianship and musicality had been relished as heard in the latter, in whom [not least through hearing him beforehand on Radio 3's In Tune programme (@BBCInTune) - from 1:32:33 onwards in the live broadcast on 7 April 2016, and available to listen to for thirty days] a great future seems set to lie...

Bach ~ Cantata : Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust, BWV 170

The preceding Cantata had fallen into five movements. It alternates Arien with Rezitativen, and the first has a brief orchestral introduction, in which Masamitsu San’nomiya was now to be observed playing oboe d’amore, before we first caught Robin Blaze’s enviable vocal-tone (he had not performed in Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis, the longer Cantata that constituted Part I of the concert).

Not least when he re-entered after a reprise of the initial material, Blaze put the soloists whom we had already heard in the shade – a lucid sound, and full of delight and of life. In the final line, on the word Wohnung (‘dwelling’), he gave a smile, and, after the warm, rich tutti at the close, his face could be seen looking eager at bringing us this text.

In the Rezitativ, and with organ and cello continuo, he continued clear and bright, and using tone-colour with a phrase such as Ach ! diese Schuld ist schwerlich zu verbeten (‘Oh, this guilt is hard to make atonement for !’) [where shown by underscoring]. The second, central Arie started with agreeably reedy / piping organ-notes and strings to the fore in the introduction, and, as the movement developed, the orchestra accompanied Blaze with gestures in the form of brief strokes on the strings.

As we were to hear in the Magnificat, he handled chromatic writing in the setting - e.g. of the words Und Hass (‘And hatred’) - with skill and sensitivity (as also, later, with beautifully executed coloratura). He was matched only by Masato Suzuki’s lovely organ playing : free and rhythmically flexible, according to mood and musical context. Further on, in the kernel of this Cantata, he brought forth from the organ peals and a celebratory ambience, and then we were taken straight into the closing pair of lines (beginning Ach ! ohne Zweifel ['Oh, without doubt [...]']). The tail-piece of the movement was nicely understated, and Blaze listened, quite engaged.

In the second Rezitativ, he was emphatic, confident and full, and – perhaps to a loved one in the audience ? – gave a little wink at one point. He might well have had reason to be pleased, for the whole had cohered, and was to feel ‘of a piece’ to the end :

In the closing Arie, the opening line of a five-line text – Mir ekelt mehr zu leben (‘The idea of living for longer is disgusting to me’) – is to be dwelt on by Bach. In Blaze's interpreting the sung part of the writing to us, we heard more virtuoso organ-playing from Suzuki come to fruition, and to great effect, in chirping organ figures (in an improvisatory style) that he gave to us as the movement resumed da capo.

Perhaps a work that we could more easily relate to than to Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis, but certainly one that yielded a performance, built around Robin Blaze and his voice, that was both convincing, and provocative of suggesting that we might heed the theological perspective from Bach’s time and faith...


¹ As other audience members (in from Cambridge Early Music / @CambsEarlyMusic) were 'ahead of the game', and already aware that BWV 243 is (or appears to be) the revision, and transposition, of an original in E Flat Major, BWV 243a.

² E.g. when James Gilchrist splendidly returned [for Easter at King’s 2016 (@ConcertsatKings), on Monday and Tuesday of Holy Week] to give us the Evangelist in the St John Passion (BWV 245).

³ Perhaps there may have been good reasons (better than logistical ones) for not swiftly following the Aria with the Chorus. (Although it could only have been, as one recollects, to allow Rachel Nicholls to resume her place in the Chorus - and, surely, that crux could not have been insurmountable (or that resumption of place need not have been given precedence) ?)

⁴ Since (as borne out by other performances) Wikipedia asserts There is however no numbering of movements in Bach's autographs, nor is there a caesura between the third and the fourth movement : the 25th measure of the Quia respexit (where the soprano soloist sings her last note) is the first measure of the Omnes generationes movement.

(What the work’s Wikipedia page also says about how Bach set the text of the Magnificat, as a whole, is that Each verse of the canticle is assigned to one movement, except verse 48 (the third verse of the Magnificat [sc. of Chapter 1 of The Gospel According to Luke]) which begins with a soprano solo in the third movement [Quia respexit] and is concluded by the chorus in the fourth movement [Omnes generationes], i.e. :

[3rd mvt : Aria] Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent /
[4th mvt : Chorus] omnes generationes)

⁵ Though maybe the Lutheran influence always causes favouring one side of the balance ?

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Friday, 8 April 2016

Only the idle rest during war-time (work in progress)

This is an accreting appreciation of Ivan's Childhood (1962)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

8 April

This is an accreting appreciation of Ivan's Childhood (1962)

Film references :

* A Beautiful Mind (2001)

* A Story of Children and Film (2013) - sic : importantly, it should not be thought of as ‘History’...

* Bugsy Malone (1976)

* The Night of The Hunter (1955)

* The White Ribbon (2009)



Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Essential Trusts in 8 Tweets : You old sly boots... !

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

8 April

The prologue

The lesson

The postlude


Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

'The Thief of Time' (another nupe ohm)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

6 April

The Thief of Time

After Peter Gabriel’s ‘That Voice Again’

The stolen seconds do not tick away
When we lie embraced, excluding the day
And its other worlds of What might have been :

Not then our full reflection on the seen,
The heard, felt and drunk, the skin’s lovely sheen,
And the moans and grunts in which – some say ? –

Body truly communicates itself
To body and mind to mind, indiscrete
As penis pushes its passage, soft pelf
Touches kind, and lips seek where they can meet.

Later, cakes and ale all spent, is when Time
Makes stock-take. Asks how this was well meant ? ;
This, though said or done ill, is not a crime ? ;
Or what (unsaid by both) the mind’s intent ?

© Belston Night Works 2016

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Friday, 1 April 2016

At Lunch 3 : Flutter-notes, gong-sounds, and vigorous tremolo

This is a review of Britten Sinfonia in At Lunch 3 on 23 February 2016

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

23 February

This is a review of At Lunch 3, given by Britten Sinfonia at West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge, on Tuesday 23 February 2016 at 1.00 p.m.

Debussy ~ Syrinx (1913)

Flautist Emer McDonough commenced the recital with this familiar work, (1) Syrinx, in the manner of an impromptu. It had two sections at the beginning that end with very quiet notes, and, with the impression and / or feeling of a dream, her playing luxuriated in the lugubrious passages in the lower register.

Afterwards, she said a few words about what a privilege it had been to prepare, and to be performing, this programme with Clare Finnimore and Lucy Wakeford.

Programme :

1. Claude Debussy (1862-1918) ~ Syrinx

2. Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996) ~ And then I knew ‘twas Wind

3. Daníel Bjarnson (1979-) ~ Parallel

4. Franco Donatoni (1927-2000) ~ Marches

5. Debussy ~ Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp

Takemitsu ~ And then I knew ‘twas Wind (1992)

McDonough (the Sinfonia’s principal flautist) was joined by Clare Finnimore (principal violist), and, on pedal-harp, Lucy Wakeford (principal harpist) for (2) this composition for trio, which opens with harp.

One could easily enough identify Schoenbergian elements of flutter-notes on flute and vigorous tremolo on viola, but they were only means to an end (as when the tuning-block was used to give a steel-guitar effect on harp), even if they ineluctably summoned up a form of repertoire :

Playing as equal instruments in And then I knew ‘twas Wind (although it seemed to be the harp that introduced material, or made comments), they were required to be meditative on a 6- or 7-note theme, employing a variety of timbres and textures : for example, with Lucy Wakeford, on harp, changing attack and her techniques, and from sharp to light in a few notes.

As with Ligeti’s Continuum (which we heard Maggie Cole play in At Lunch 2), there was a danger here, in this pervasive and intense sound, of noticing too much, and so not noticing enough : almost just as faint stars can be seen best not by looking directly at them, but by letting oneself become aware of their presence in the periphery of one’s vision… ?

Bjarnson ~ Parallel (2016)

Different elements of the trio were in and out of being at rest in section I of (3) Parallel, with the casing of the harp being used, and with a sharp attack employed on viola and flute. Tonal, lyrical passages emerged, but we moved out to be quiet again in conclusion.

Section II initially had moving patterns for Wakeford over a sort of drone from viola and flute, which turned into an elegy for flute. Next, section III came straight in, with much – and more integrated – liveliness : very short, but full of energy.

Section IV opened with gong-like ‘clangs’ (claps ?) on solo harp, which became an ostinato over which the flute entered and floated, and the viola dipped in and out. With four long notes, the viola-writing became more expansive, and a coda had it to the fore (with quiet harp and flute), but we finished with soft flute and harp.

Donatoni ~ Marches (‘Steps’) (1979)

Lucy Wakeford introduced (4) this piece, which she played with inventiveness, and which has both a distinct sound and sound-world – often troubled in tone, and, with its obsessive material, producing anxiety (in this listener, at least).

The rhythmicity of Marches (‘Steps’) had the power to unsettle / disquiet [again, a point of comparison with the Ligeti from At Lunch 2], and could be considered to be expressing the content of dreams (or neuroses) that we struggle to wake from. At any rate, it caused Wakeford to be called back for applause at her virtuoso rendition.

Debussy ~ Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp (1915)

1. Pastorale : Lento, dolce rubato
2. Interlude : Tempo di Minuetto
3. Finale : Allegro moderato ma risoluto

Clare Finnimore spoke briefly to introduce the (5) Sonata, and what it has meant to her in her time since she first played it (at music college ?). The opening Pastorale, as well as having, at the start, some well-known music in the vein of a Berceuse (to which some wish to go to sleep), had a real exuberance to it, and a fond feeling in the part for flute, which helped create an apparently care-free mood.

So we heard McDonough, with ‘jaunty’ writing for viola, and supported by the harp. At this point, the tone of the viola became full of earnestness, and, in its phrased line, perhaps we were reminded of a moment in Debussy's String Quartet (in G Minor, Op. 10) before the drowsy sensations accompanying the opening material recurred ?

The Interlude* will also be known to many outside of its context in the Sonata, and it represented a movement when the forces of the trio were in interchange : we heard the theme on the harp, then, when Finnimore’s viola joined in, glissandi, and material passing back and forth with the flute. When we heard the theme stated at the end, it was low on Emer McDonough’s instrument.

In the Finale, we had pizzicato writing and vigorous figures on the harp. There was much about this movement that was tempestuous and serious, as Finnimore had mentioned, with stern accents for viola. However, they fell away, and there was almost a touch of the comic, as Debussy eased off, closing in a different vein.

As, for its length, the work ‘claimed rank’ even on the Takemitsu, it was understandable that the Debussy received much applause : in a way, it was the work around which the whole programme had been built, and so, in bringing it full circle to Debussy, the acclaim was for all the moods that these principals of Britten Sinfonia (@BrittenSinfonia) had given us in this hour-long recital.


* The word comes from mediaeval Latin interludium, from inter- ‘between’ + ludus ‘play’.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)