everything turns away [Co-commissioned by Britten Sinfonia & Wigmore Hall: world premiere tour]
Quintet in A for Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello and Double Bass, D667 (Trout)
Members of Britten Sinfonia [Jacqueline Shave (violin), Martin Outram (viola), Caroline Dearnley (cello) & Roger Linley (double bass)] with Huw Watkins (piano)
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 2 March, 2011
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Each of the concerts in the Britten Sinfonia ‘at lunch’ series is part of a week-long tour, with this Wigmore Hall example sandwiched by appearances at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and appearances in Norwich and Cambridge. The concerts, of lunchtime length, take as their theme a specific instrumental combination, and include the world premiere of a commissioned work.
The instrumentation on this occasion was based on Schubert’s ‘Trout’ Quintet, though as Huw Watkins was initially absent it appeared that Simon Holt’s everything turns away required only the four string instruments. This proved not to be the case, in a performance that had a visual element. Holt’s brief to himself was to take Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s attributed painting “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus”, Icarus falling from the sky, and turn it into a representation of the world’s detachment from catastrophe. In this he focussed on the tendency to not only walk-on-by but to walk on the other side, a kind of take on the ‘Good Samaritan’ story of the Bible. Watkins was the person walking by in this case, arriving halfway through the piece to play a cascade of notes and pithy observations before leaving the string-players to their duties. Holt took advantage of the added depth offered by cello and double bass, Roger Linley signalling the disaster with a dramatic descending note at the start, the other players responding to this with frenzied pizzicato. With Watkins’s entry the music assumed a visceral power and when he left it subsided, portraying humanity going about its business in spite of unfortunate events.
The overriding positivity of Schubert’s ‘Trout’ Quintet came as a polar opposite; though it took the Britten Sinfonia members a while to convince that this is music of unbridled optimism. The first movement was a touch constricted and unwilling to let go, yet as the account progressed inhibitions were gradually cast off. In the Variations on Schubert’s song “Die Forelle” (The Trout) the performance reached its height, Watkins bringing great virtuosity to the tricky runs but never assuming centre-stage, ensuring the five musicians played as a unit. Shared enjoyment abounded, the finale had the required uplift, and the overall sound was a pleasure.