Britten Sinfonia at Milton Court

The Britten Sinfonia shifts ingrained perspectives with its 'Kaleidoscopes' programme

Britten Sinfonia at Milton Court

Rare is the concert that shifts ingrained perspectives. Kaleidoscopes, by the Britten Sinfonia at Milton Court this Monday, did just that, using the frame of Mozart to tease out resonances between composers as ostensibly distant as György Kurtág, John Tavener and John Adams. It was not only an inspired piece of programming, but performed with indelible intensity.

Mozart’s sombre Adagio K580a opened the evening, in a version for cor anglais and strings. Jaqueline Shave’s throaty Amati violin made the perfect foil for Nicholas Daniel’s languorous unfolding arioso on cor anglais. Mozart was for John Tavener ‘the most sacred and most inexplicable of all composers’: this poignant fragment conjures effortlessly that timeless space Tavener was always striving to create with his music.

Thomas Adès joined string players (on stage and around the gallery) for Kurtág’s exquisite Irka-Firka (doodles), a tiny birthday gift to his friend cellist András Mihály. Tone answered tentative tone around the hall, each stroke of moth-wing delicacy, chiming and decaying in the gloom, Adès’s conducting hands spot-lit like a ghostly dancer at the centre. He transferred them to the piano for his own arrangement of Kurtág’s In memoriam András Mihály, a threadbare processional of poignant grandeur, each of his chords eliciting hesitant responses from the strings. The player’s positioning brought us all into a mysterious, encircling process of discovering each timbre anew.

Who would have thought John Adams’s Shaker Loops bore any relation to Kurtág’s gnomic central European miniatures? For all its breezy West Coast optimism, the piece is also built on the child-like discovery of tones, an innocence no longer to be found in Adams’s music, and one that darkens in the drooping, mourning harmonics of its Hymning Slews movement. For seven players to produce the sustained intensity required is a challenge, but one met triumphantly here. Jacqueline Shave and her colleagues injected it with a ferocious energy, producing a startling range of sound from hard brightness, to translucence to a kind of hyper-real synthetic sound that had me searching for the wires, but confirmed the vibrancy of Milton Court’s acoustic.

Adams’s ‘shaking’ recalls the ecstatic trances of the early Shakers, and segued neatly into Tavener’s oboe concerto, Kaleidoscopes, with its celestial, high-trilling solo part. Daniel stood in the centre of four string quartets, directing and performing this virtuoso tour de force with extraordinary focus and grace. Kaleidoscope shares the symbolic four compass-point arrangement with Tavener's Flood of Beauty premiered by the Britten Sinfonia and New London Chamber Choir under Martyn Brabbins on Sunday night. But where Flood was a grandiose, and often congested, 100-minute-deluge of music, in Kaleidoscopes’s tight, ritualistic structure every subtlety of texture and harmony was clear, windows opening on dissonant bursts of John Zorn-like mania, shut suddenly by controlled rhythmic dances and mysterious episodes of luminous dissolution, a gradual coalescing towards some vast Mozartian cadence, its final reward.



A guide to the music of Sir John Tavener

Proms 2014: Shostakovich, Bartók and Tavener

Britten Sinfonia and the Richard Alston Dance Company


  • Article Type: | Blog |
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