Of the Knussen pieces, especially welcome was a complete performance of the chamber Triptych that evolved between 1975 and 78 in response to the compositional issues thrown up by the in-progress Third Symphony. The three works form a natural sequence: the sustained chordal writing and intricate textures of Autumnal; the harmonically-amorphous pianism, given focus by the barcarolle-like rhythmic underlay, of Sonyas Lullaby; and the increasingly charged discourse, culminating in a mesmeric slow coda, of Cantata. Violinist Marianne Thorsen, pianist Ian Brown and oboist Gareth Hulse brought character and conviction to each piece in turn.
From 1991, Knussens Whitman Settings are a present-day model of how to write complex but communicative music for voice and piano. The songs, each involving a discursive analogy between the natural and the human world, persuasively combine rhetoric and lyricism in the vocal line with idiomatic piano writing which instantly suggests instrumental connotations (the songs were arranged for orchestra the following year). Rosemary Hardy over-projected them just a little in the admittedly difficult Purcell Room acoustic while capturing their spirit of questing imagination in full measure.
As to the remaining works, Kenneth Heskeths chamber transcription of Debussys Arabesques made them sound closer stylistically to early Fauré, even Delius. Simon Holts Raymond Carver setting, a 1989 memorial tribute to Michael Vyner, is a reminder of the composers plangent and distinctive vocal writing. Mark-Anthony Turnages newly-commissioned Cantilena pits a virtually continuous oboe line against writing for string quartet that accelerates then winds down in motion with what felt like golden-section precision. An attractive if somewhat anonymous piece.
Whereas Julian Andersons Poetry Nearing Silence (1997) is possibly his most individual statement certainly his most idiosyncratic in the quixotic continuity of its eight short movements, pungently scored for combinations of seven instruments. Subtitled Divertimento after Tom Philips, the work draws on the artists novel-derived word selection and pictorial glosses to assemble a sequence which ranges from the blues-inflected waltz of Know Vienna to the pithy Janacek-homage of in Bohemia, screwing and the Enescu (?) evocation of in Carpathia, you cared for new things, before the sombre clarinet theme of Coda: tall rain rattled over Paris. Vibrantly played under the direction of Martyn Brabbins, it brought the concert to a stimulating conclusion.
- The Nash Ensemble pays a 70th-birthday tribute to Alexander Goehr this Wednesday, 27 March, at 7.30 in the Purcell Room. As well as pieces by Goehr, there is music by Dallapiccola, Knussen and Stravinsky
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