Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bainbridge
WORKS: Ad ora incerta; Four Primo Levi Settings
PERFORMER: Susan Bickley (mezzo-soprano), Kim Walker (bassoon); Nash Ensemble, BBC SO/Martyn Brabbins
Primo Levi’s poetry cuts to the quick, telling in the starkest possible terms of what it was like to suffer in the Nazi concentration camps. The hopelessness, the emptiness, above all the unremitting fear and deep, deep sadnesss: all are contained within a very few words. It takes a brave composer to fit music to such words. One can only imagine, as a deeply moved listener, the torments that Simon Bainbridge put himself through in order to express Levi’s agonised thoughts in sound – something pointed out by Paul Griffiths in his note for Ad ora incerta, which won the prestigious Grawemeyer Award in 1997. There are obvious Mahlerian connections in this work, but its ingenious use of bassoon solo, eloquently played by Kim Walker, as a symbol of Levi’s fellow prisoner, the ‘tired companion’, is striking, conversing, shadowing, reflecting the voice as the work circles around and homes in on the events of those terrible times. Susan Bickley, the soprano soloist, captures the sense of darkness and desolation in this intuitive-seeming, linear music, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra plays beautifully, fully cognisant of the weight of the message being conveyed, under Martyn Brabbins’s direction. The Four Primo Levi Settings are scored for a chamber ensemble and sound equally intense, equally haunting, in Bickley’s reading with the Nash Ensemble. Required listening if ever there was. Stephen Pettitt