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A Near-perfect Occasion

ALICE McVEIGH braves the snow
to listen to Fretwork at London's Wigmore Hall


This, despite Southeastern Trains' best efforts to wreck it, was a fantastic occasion [Fretwork, with mezzo-soprano Clare Wilkinson, Sunday 1 February 2009, Wigmore Hall, London UK].

There was the surprise as they walked on, each dressed exactly as they fancied: from a smart black suit to rehearsal-style gear (still unconvinced on this, personally!)

There was the interplay between the players, nothing oversold or overdone: the merest eyebrow sufficient to make each bow move limpidly as one, the vibrato unselfconsciously disorganized, with a discretion impossible to overpraise.

There was the perfect balance with voice and strings, not least in two of my favourite Purcell arias: O Solitude and Music for a while -- and the self-evident delight of the performers in sharing their lines with the singer.

There was the freshness of the Purcell viol works, the astringency of Shostakovich, the bell-like notes of Arvo Pärt's Fratres (so eagerly seized upon that one would have imagined, rather than being a long-established group, that they had never played the works before).

There was the inspired programming: everything from the 1600s to brand spanking new (apparently this is to be chalked up to the credit of Richard Tunnicliffe, with -- or so one assumes -- concordance from his cohorts!)

There were moments of pure inspiration: not only from Byrd and Purcell, but equally from the world première of John Joubert's Fellowship of the Stretched String -- and in the otherworldly harmonics in Duncan Druce's Three Poems of Henry Vaughan.

There was humour -- if also disappointment -- in the news that someone had forgotten their part for one of the limpid Purcell Fantazias -- and genuine enthusiasm for the composers (and poet, Stephen Tunnicliffe) present from the entire hall.

And how wonderfully Clare Wilkinson sings! -- she has a stunning emotional range, so often just shaded rather than overt (in common, I have to say, with Fretwork). Nothing is ever forced, or histrionic. She glows when she sings, and her voice shapes itself wonderfully -- first coy, then empowered -- she also rounds her voices to perfection. (I know that this is not the correct technical word, but remember I only had a year of singing lessons ...)

The last work (John Joubert's Fellowship of the Stretched String) in some ways was the most life-affirming of all. From the swooping cascades of strings into the cleverly interwoven quotations from Dido's famous 'Lament' and 'Che faro senze Euridice' (and even 'Music for a while') it is simultaneously never less than whole within itself. Clearly inspired, Joubert's dance-like conclusion -- delivered with delicious brio by singer and strings -- would have been a highlight of anyone's programme ...

The audience (not quite full, but considering the weather, outstanding) trudged out into the snow, reinvigorated and lifted up. A near-perfect occasion.

Copyright © 6 February 2009 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK


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