House Music

Serenata in vano
Dominique Le Gendre
Tales of the Islands [world premiere]
Brahms arr. Jorg Rotter
Serenade No.1 in D, Op.11 [reconstructed nonet version]

Peter Manning (violin & director)
Sophia Holmes (violin)
Konstantin Boyarsky (viola)
George Ives (cello)
Tony Hougham (double bass)
Margaret Campbell (flute)
John Payne (clarinet)
Tim Payne (clarinet & saxophone)
David Thomas (oboe)
Andrea De Flammineis (bassoon)
Roger Montgomery (horn & drum)
Sir Willard W White (narrator)

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 10 April, 2005
Venue: Floral Hall, Royal Opera House, London

Another sunny Sunday, another concert hall, the Vilar Floral Hall, and another joyful – indeed appropriately sunny – concert. Here it was the turn of musicians made up from the Royal Opera House Orchestra, under leader Peter Manning, who played the world première of Trinidad-born composer Dominique Le Gendre’s five inspirations from Derek Walcott’s sonnets “Tales of the Islands”. And to add lustre Sir Willard W White was on hand to sonorously intone the five respective sonnets before (or, in one case, after) Le Gendre’s rather delightful, small-ensemble miniatures.

Based on Walcott’s Chapters 1-4 and the final, tenth, chapter of his “Tales of the Islands” each piece features a facet or a character from the Caribbean, including Cosmo and his sword upstairs (Chapter 2), a nun (Chapter 3) and the infectious calypso rhythms enshrined in Chapter 4 (so distinctive was Le Gendre’s writing that the respective sonnet didn’t need to be heard until after hearing the music).

With a fine ear for sonority and timbre, contrasting chordal strings and chattering wind, Le Gendre – ROH Associate Artist – did not, save in the calypso, necessarily conjure a specifically Caribbean world, but certainly fashioned beguiling sounds of which I hope to hear more. The performance (complete with composer’s son chattering in the background) was recorded and filmed, but whether for public consumption I don’t know.

Tales of the Islands was flanked by a whimsy and a reconstruction. Nielsen’s Serenata in vano (Serenade in vain) opened the sunny recital in a nocturnal mood, where the unusual band of serenaders – cello, double bass, clarinet, bassoon and horn – having failing in their amorous music-making return home with a jaunty march. My memory played me false here – I thought they got drunk – but after a rather po-faced start the musicians warmed up nicely, even without alcohol!

After the interval, one of my favourite pieces – Brahms’s Serenade No.1, which I know well from its orchestral version, via which Brahms learnt the tricks of the orchestration trade. It is though a relative rarity. The original version, for a nonet of flute, two clarinets, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello and double bass, was lost. In the late 1980s there were two reconstructions, one (recorded) by Anthony Boustead and one – played here – by Jorge Rotter. I have also found reference to at least one other version, although this is for a non-original ten players.

There was no exposition repeat in the first movement, and more problems with balance than in the first half (some of the violin lines become very exposed), but on the whole this was a very enjoyable performance, if lacking a touch of malleability here and there.

There are two more recitals to complete the House Music season. On 5 June Eric Crees is joined by brass and percussion sections for a programme ranging from Bach to Bernstein. And on 26 June Antonio Pappano (who was in the audience for this recital) conducts the British première of Rossini’s Bassoon Concerto as well as one of his popular overtures and works by both Paganini and Verdi (the latter’s String Quartet played by full strings).

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