Concertino for string quartet
Three Japanese Lyrics*
Trois Poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé*
Poetry Nearing Silence
Augusta Read Thomas
Of Being Is a Bird (Emily Dickinson Settings)* [world première]
Claire Booth (soprano)*
Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter
Reviewed: 7 July, 2015
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Julian Anderson is the Wigmore Hall’s current Composer in Residence. He devised this golden concert of old and new – rarely heard (and therefore almost forgotten) classics and two newcomers of incandescent vitality and beauty.
The Aurora Orchestra – impassioned and unbelievably skilled musicians – was brilliant and played with all the energy and commitment you could want. Stravinsky’s Concertino (1920) is tricky to negotiate – given here with savage, expert aplomb, although I missed the composer’s lithe sense of humour. The Japanese Lyrics (1913) had an exquisite yet robust delicacy and refinement, Claire Booth lightening her voice and managing awkward intervals adeptly. Ravel’s Mallarmé settings (also 1913) could have come from no other pen … but, they are harmonically adventurous and structurally playful, aware of Stravinsky’s presence in Paris. Booth changed to a more sonorous tone: this music requires dolorous lyricism, but no problem for her.
There was an all-pervading unity of subdued mood amidst all this compositional brilliance. Some contrast would not have come amiss. At the end of the evening Tragoedia (1965) found Harrison Birtwistle (born 1934) experimenting with different combinations of sounds, speeds, textures and expressions, a notebook ready for use should a full-length tragedy ever be on the cards. Birtwistle’s writing even fifty years ago is accomplished and self-confident.
The highlight of the evening was Julian Anderson’s Poetry Nearing Silence (1997), a response to drawings and their accompanying poems by Tom Phillips. Anderson’s writing is distinctive and luminous, and warm-blooded and human. Pleasurable and invigorating, too, was Augusta Read Thomas’s brand-new Emily Dickinson-inspired Of Being is a Bird (dedicated to Anderson), giving Claire Booth further opportunity to display her intense yet beguiling soprano, which is always so very comfortable with the ‘new’. Here, in contrast to 1913 – the brittle excitability of Japanese Lyrics and the icy articulations of Ravel’s versions of Mallarmé – we had open-throttled energy, brisk curiosity and drama from 2015 – culminating in a swinging transatlantic swagger. This was an exceptional evening.