Concert Review

Finzi, Woolrich, Strauss etc. Britten Sinfonia, cond. Nicholas Daniel (oboe) with Ian Bostridge (tenor) Q.E.Hall, South Bank Centre 31 January 2000 (broadcast live on Radio 3)

This concert was well attended and at the end Ian Bostridge was sitting ready, with pen poised for autograph hunters in the audience to emerge and buy copies of his Dies Natalis CD [Phillips 454 438-2PH]; a demeaning new ritual to replace the traditional queue outside the green room to compliment the artists.

Nicholas Daniel established his authority as a conductor in the sixteen-year old Mozart's string quartet in its more familiar version as Divertimento in D, K136. His movements are graceful and he drew sensitive playing from the Britten Sinfonia strings, enhanced by a reflective screen at the back of the stage. The new Litany by John Woolrich, receiving its London premiere, transpired also to be expanded chamber music. This 'transcription and re-composition' of a 1998 oboe quintet had the oboe supported by homophonic string chords for the most part, and it was not easy to hear it as 'a mosaic of a couple of dozen very short pieces'. Woolrich always pares down his music and this quarter hour passed pleasantly, if less than memorably. I suspect I might prefer the more cost-effective quintet version?

Finzi's Dies Natalis is a favourite in the English pastoral idiom, and beautiful it was here with Ian Bostridge competing with affectionate memories of Wilfrid Brown's classic performances and recording [EMI CDM5 65588-2]. But the presentation was bizarre, no words supplied and the programme not readable in the fashionable gloom of a darkened hall, which is supposed to create atmosphere and intensify listening; but in reality is more likely to incline towards dozing. Listeners were confused by having small pieces by Ireland and Walton played, without any breaks, whilst Bostridge sat patiently waiting to get up and sing - the Finzi itself has a long Intrada for strings alone before the Rhapsody (in the same tempo and with the same material) introduces the singer and Thomas Traherne words.

Nicholas Daniel confirmed his status as a serious contender for recognition as a conductor, rather than as an oboist who conducts, with a well-shaped interpretation of Strauss's Metamorphosen. The violins and violas of the 23 solo strings stood to deliver, and sounded towards the back of the hall both sumptuous yet clear in the work's contrapuntally complex divisi passages.

A final word of warning; at QEH, a cardboard cup of (not very good) coffee now costs £1.45p!

Peter Grahame Woolf

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