Britten Sinfonia

The Britten Sinfonia provide a masterclass for GUY JAMES in the second of Lent term’s Tuesday Lunchtime Concert Season.

andre previn bassoon Britten Sinfonia cums cums lunchtime concert series Handel huw watkins nichloas daniel Oboe Piano poulenc sarah burnett west road wigmore

1.10pm, Tuesday 17th January, West Road Concert Hall, £3


In this week’s Tuesday Lunchtime Concert, the Britten Sinfonia presented a dazzling hour of trio music written for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano.

Nicholas Daniel (oboe) introduced the first item on the programme; a Poulenc trio. Seconds after Huw Watkins’ stark piano opening, the audience were whisked around the piece’s exciting runs and abrupt edges with unfaltering technique. The players, closely seated, were dwarfed by the West Road stage, yet they appeared to fill it with their intense energy. There was a strong sense of theatre throughout the performance, each player perfectly animating Poulenc’s subtle mood sequence. The hushed tones of the adagio movement were particularly poignant, and the last movement made a triumphant finale.

Handel’s Trio Sonata saw an inescapable feeling of the three players as a single instrument, aware of each others movements, ensuring that no instrument was ever drowned out, but was audible whilst investigating every note of the counterpoint. The fugal writing showcased Handel’s almost unnatural ability to create perfectly interlocking melody lines.

The Sinfonia’s short programme was also an opportunity for a world premiere of a new work by the young British composer Elspeth Brooke. The work was jointly commissioned by the Britten Sinfonia and Wigmore hall and adds to a short list of music written for this ensemble. Titled ‘The Homing Call’ the piece is a reflection on the idea of connections people make and lose within the modern urban cityscape, oscillating between sequences of long chords with silences, as well as periods of frenetic activity. Sarah Burnett (Bassoon) often had extended left hand passages which echoed and played around with musical ideas found elsewhere in the texture. The deep resonances of the bassoon provided a foundation for the jarring and regular dissonances found within the other parts.

The concert ended with a trio by the multi-talented Andre Previn; a mix of gushing romantic melody lines and musical “jokes”, the instruments taking up each others parts in a parodistic fashion. In the last movement – the aptly named ‘Jaunty’ – the piano acquired a distinctly american flavour, whilst oboe lines continued to refresh the musical material, never letting it wallow in one place.

The concert was met with audience approval, which is hardly surprising for what might be for it was somewhat of a masterclass from the enigmatic Sinfonia. The concert was recorded for BBC Radio 3, to be broadcast later in the Spring, and I can wholeheartedly recommend listening in.