Britten Sinfonia At Lunch

Quintet for piano and wind in E flat, Op.16
Five Temperaments [World premiere]
Mother Goose – Suite

Members of Britten Sinfonia [Philippe Bernold (flute & piccolo), Nicholas Daniel (oboe, cor anglais & percussion), Joy Farrall (clarinet & bass clarinet), Sarah Burnett (bassoon), Stephen Bell (horn)]
Imogen Cooper (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 6 February, 2008
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Benjamin Britten (1913-76)During the Britten Sinfonia’s five-date tour of this attractive programme, the decision was made to swap the advertised running order, so that Robin Holloway’s Five Temperaments was preceded by Beethoven rather than Ravel.

Nicholas Daniel explained the decision, in addition giving a useful guide to the Holloway. The change in order made sense, for Holloway’s five emotional snapshots made more of an impact after the classical outlines of the Beethoven. Holloway too explained in that the Temperaments were not the traditional four of ‘choleric’, ‘phlegmatic’, ‘sanguine’ and ‘melancholic’, but rather were implied, leaving the piece open to interpretation. Eight instruments were used by the five wind players, which occasionally distracted visually in the rush to move from one to the other, but it gave extra options of colour in the scherzo, which utilised all eight.

Robin HollowayThe harsh outcries of the opening section fought with each other to be heard, while the slowly shifting chords of the third gave the impression of a distant, slow-moving object. Throughout Holloway’s writing for wind was assured and sympathetic, the sense of colour and mood both important qualities. Together the five miniatures made a substantial and rewarding whole.

Daniel was the natural leader for the Beethoven, though he was helped by extremely sensitive playing from Imogen Cooper, her keen sense of ensemble helping to secure an ideal balance. Immediately evident was the players’ enthusiasm for this heart-warming music, though they ensured the solemnity of the slow introduction. The graceful theme of the Andante was picked up by the woodwind, with lyrical solos from oboe and bassoon, while the players enjoyed also the lively dialogue of the Rondo’s theme.

Finishing the concert was an unusual arrangement, uncredited in the programme, of Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, for wind ensemble, piano and percussion. So it was that Nicholas Daniel gained yet another instrument, adding the gong to his oboe and cor anglais.

Cooper was given the string parts, and although this music originates in two-piano form she played quite superbly to make sure that Ravel’s subtle colouring effects were not lost, clearly adhering to the dynamic and expression markings. Stephen Bell’s horn was remarkably restrained during the ‘Pavane’, while ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and the ‘Empress of the Pagodas’ were both vividly interpreted, the shrill cries at the end of the latter thrown off with relish. And so to the final ‘Fairy Garden’, Cooper refusing to be hurried and the winds gradually joining with grace until the final climax – well controlled. And the gong? Used with great amusement to all the players during ‘Tom Thumb’ and well worth its investment.

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