wed 08/04/2020

Joanna MacGregor, Adrian Brendel, Gildas Quartet, Wigmore Hall review - gold and silver | reviews, news & interviews

Joanna MacGregor, Adrian Brendel, Gildas Quartet, Wigmore Hall review - gold and silver

Joanna MacGregor, Adrian Brendel, Gildas Quartet, Wigmore Hall review - gold and silver

Generosity all round in this charity concert for the Royal Society of Musicians

Joanna MacGregor: visceral sounds

Startlingly high levels of expression and focused fire made this rich concert worthy of the dedicatee who radiated those qualities, Jacqueline du Pré.

Startlingly high levels of expression and focused fire made this rich concert worthy of the dedicatee who radiated those qualities, Jacqueline du Pré. Beyond even that, this Wigmore Hall special was an oddly synaesthesic experience – or maybe I'm just suggestible; at any rate Joanna MacGregor's full-blooded way with Frank Bridge's torrid late romanticism seemed to drip red, there was ethereal silver in the more other-worldly Shostakovich playing of the Gildas Quartet and gold from their viola player, Jenny Lewisohn, as well as from superlative cellist Adrian Brendel, in perfect synchronicity with MacGregor.

The very first notes asked for total collegiality: Britten calls the opening movement of his 1961 Cello Sonata “Dialogo”, and it’s a play of piano chords and cello notes which MacGregor and Brendel (pictured below by Jack Liebeck) playfully and subtly rendered to make the work sound as if it could have been written yesterday. Only a genius of the highest order could offer such singular and elliptical forms, such sudden lashings followed by retreats into austerity. MacGregor’s high-wire brilliance resonated without smothering the cello, and her octaves against Brendel’s pizzicati in the second movement made me want to hear her in the three piano concertos of Bartok, surely Britten’s model here as well as for the overall five-movement arch shape.

Adrian BrendelBritten’s mentor Frank Bridge taught his pupil a thing or two about originality, though it doesn’t surface in the coruscating, pre-World War One first movement of his corresponding sonata; this simply allowed Brendel to sing – I assume the cello was the glorious Guarneri he was trying out when I heard him play for the first time in Svalbard – and MacGregor to go visceral on all the elaborate piano writing. The second is more original, shot through with “utter despair at the futility of the war and the state of the world generally”, as Bridge told the cellist Antonia Butler, as tonality begins to crumble; pianist and cellist managed to induce a trance-like state as the outlines of a real, sympathetic face emerge just before a brief, aggressive scherzo episode.

In her eloquent introduction, Fiona Grant of the Royal Society of Musicians gave us an idea of Britain’s oldest musical charity, established as a “Fund for Decaying Musicians” set up by Handel and friends in 1738, and pointed out how his many benefit concerts introduced some of his latest works. So the charity aims to include a new commission in each concert, and the one we heard after the interval was a gem: Freya Waley-Cohen’s Amulet for string quintet (pictured below: the Gildas Quartet and Adrian Brendel in rehearsal), memorable Britten-like figures from cello and viola serpentine against high sustained notes, spread around and dissolving before the idea could outstay its welcome. It's more than incidental to point out that all six performers for the evening are ardent champions of new music. Gildas Quartet and Adrian Brendel in performanceCompression and surface simplicity are also the hallmarks of Shostakovich’s often transparent Piano Quintet; the uniqueness is in the introspective magic with which the Gildas players, led by first violinist Christopher Jones as a voice from another planet, launch a great fugue and a singing intermezzo, while the occasional frenzies were initiated in massive bass lines from MacGregor, who also sings when she plays (in both senses). In Shostakovich's final unbearable lightness of being, we had an ending as distilled in its genius as Britten’s beginning.

In Shostakovich's final unbearable lightness of being, we had an ending as distilled in its genius as Britten’s beginning

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Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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