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A little mourning music

Queen Elizabeth Hall
01/31/2000 -  
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Divertimento K. 136, John Ireland Minuet from A Dowland Suite, William Walton Passacaglia: Death of Falstaff from Henry V, Gerald Finzi Dies natalis, John Woolrich A Litany for Oboe and strings, Richard Strauss Metamorphosen
Nicholas Daniel (conductor/oboe), Ian Bostridge (tenor)
Britten Sinfonia

The Cambridge-based Britten Sinfonia does not only share the East Anglian roots of its namesake. To judge from this fragmented but fascinating programme titled "Innocence and war" it also collectively shares his cerebral and demanding approach to emotions and his virtuoso sense of musical form and texture.

The programme seems at first to divide into two parts, "innocence" before the interval, after Finzi's Dies natalis, and "war" in the explicitly mournful second part. But only the teenage Mozart's Divertimento could be said to be fully innocent. Metamorphosen, Strauss's war-time lament for the destroyed opera-houses of Germany (when he seems to have regarded events from Kristallnacht onwards as mere impediments to a quiet life), has a sinister specious innocence. The English works, where the Britten Sinfonia seem most at home, combine elegy and danger, or at least knowingness, in various degrees.

Two short pieces, Ireland's Minuet and Walton's Passacaglia, embodied problematic innocence, self-conscious childlikeness or simplicity, the essence of Falstaff. The centre-piece, Finzi's Dies natalis addressed the paradox of innocence directly: the narrator reflects painfully on his sense of corruption in the presence of the new-born child. Ian Bostridge was expressive, finding speech-like inflections and dramatic gestures within the same musical line. His pained understanding was perfect.

John Woolrich's A Litany, for oboe and strings, explored more abstract textures of mourning. Nicholas Daniel directed as well as playing the solo oboe part, an amazing exploration of sound-colours in an instrument normally regarded as limited in its potential effects, played against similarly extreme string textures. The following Strauss seemed almost as abstract, rough even, lacking the lushness you might expect. But it was extremely moving.

H.E. Elsom



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