Britten Sinfonia at Lunch at Wigmore Hall – Britten, Bridge & Latimer

6 Metamorphoses after Ovid, Op.49
Tema ‘Sacher’
Two Old English Songs [Sally in our Alley & Cherry Ripe]
Ryan Latimer
Divertimento [co-commissioned by Wigmore Hall and Britten Sinfonia: world premiere]
Suite for harp, Op.83
Sir Roger de Coverley

Britten Sinfonia soloists [Nicholas Daniel (oboe), Lucy Wakeford (harp), Jacqueline Shave & Miranda Dale (violins), Clare Finnimore (viola), Caroline Dearnley (cello)]

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 3 April, 2013
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Britten Sinfonia. photo: © www.brittensinfonia.comThis fourth and final instalment of the Britten Sinfonia’s ‘at Lunch’ series, based around the music of Benjamin Britten and his friends, drew another interesting programme to further illustrate the composer’s versatility in writing for different instrumental families. The concert began with the six movements for solo oboe based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which utilise a wide range of techniques and colours. Nicholas Daniel proved the ideal exponent, moving easily between athletic runs and melting phrases. He used a particularly penetrating tone at the beginning of ‘Bacchus’, while the tricky contours of ‘Arethusa’ were easily navigated.

The short theme on Paul Sacher’s name followed, Britten using the notes E flat (‘Es’ in German notation) – A – C – B (‘H’, German) – E – D (‘Re’ in French notation) to spell out his name as the beginning of a 70th-birthday present. Heard in this form it was regrettable that we were not able to listen to the variations that follow, especially as they were described in the programme-note, but Caroline Dearnley gave an authoritative performance. There was also a rare outing for the suite Britten wrote for the harpist Osian Ellis in 1969. This five-movement work reveals the harp in its true nature, looking back to the 18th-century for formal inspiration while exploring the many and varied timbres of the instrument. The crisp ‘Toccata’ and florid ‘Fugue’ are more traditional. Lucy Wakeford brought clarity to these and also found the emotional depth of ‘Nocturne’, lost in thought, and in the variations on the Welsh Hymn ‘St Denio’, with which the piece finishes.

Britten’s teacher Frank Bridge was particularly adept at arranging traditional English songs for string quartet, adapting them slightly. The rich but clear scoring of Sally in our Alley was affectionate if a little cold in this performance, while the lovely Cherry Ripe was vibrant and charming. Sir Roger de Coverley was enjoyably exuberant, although the references to ‘Auld lang Syne’ needed greater prominence.Also included was the customary commission, on this occasion the Divertimento by Ryan Latimer (born 1990), using all the instruments featured in the concert. This scoring – oboe, string quartet and harp – reminded of Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro, but the writing is quite different. There was an earthy feel to the folksy exchanges between Nicholas Daniel and Jacqueline Shave, but after a full-blooded tutti the music subsided and explored unusual sonorities, with ticking pizzicato and some very subtle interplay between the instruments, using the harp in particular with clever economy. How refreshing to hear a new piece that doesn’t need to shout, and the graceful performance helped Latimer’s music make a deep impression. This piece and the rest of the recital will be worth hearing when BBC Radio 3 broadcasts all of the ‘At Lunch’ series, from May 14-17.

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