Classical: From melodrama to poetry, melancholy to ecstasy

NASH ENSEMBLE

PURCELL ROOM

SOUTH BANK CENTRE

LONDON SE1

THOUGH BELLES-LETTRES are hardly his style, Harrison Birtwistle has a talent for choosing the words, whether taken from The Greek Anthology or David Harsent's poetry, that prove impeccably right for his uniquely created world.

Both these sources featured in the first concert of the Nash Ensemble's 1999 20th-century music series two weeks ago. The ensemble played Birtwistle's classic 1969 Cantata, which sets fragments by Sappho, and gave the world premiere of The Woman and the Hare, a striking melodrama that overcame the problems inherent in the genre by a skilful juxtaposition of spoken and sung material, performed by reciter Julia Watson and soprano Claron McFadden.

The striking feature was the identity of both pieces shared. The textural juxtapositions and discontinuities of the Cantata were not just some identikit formula for 1960s avant-garderie, but an original approach to the setting of text, renewed in the more recent work to a novel stage evolution. Birtwistle's arrangements of Machaut and Ockeghem motets set the scene; and there were sharply focused accounts of his Duets for Storab and Stravinsky's Soldier's Tale suite.

The evening's other premiere was of Colin Matthew's arrangement of Debussy's Trois poemes de Stephane Mallarme, tailored in ensemble to match the Trois poemes by Ravel, a Nash Ensemble standard. Perfectly tailored to their role, they look set to become a significant addition to the ensemble's dazzling repertoire.

Last Thursday came the turn of younger composers to hear their work played by this talented group; and of special interest was the way in which each was able to conjure a personal sound from its heterodox line-up. David Matthew's The Sleeping Lord lent orchestral weight to its chamber textures, with soprano Valdine Anderson building from a quiet opening to forceful statement. In Jonathan Harvey's Song Offerings, she rose to ecstatic heights, with a backing for string quintet whose exultant scoring matched the radiance of Tagore's love poems, sung in the poet's own translation. If Harvey knows how to draw finely blended sounds from the ensemble, Julian Anderson can burnish its ravishing highlights. To an earlier Nash commission, his Towards Poetry added a reflective, brooding pas-de-deux that blossomed into a lively clarinet solo. Texture and invention throughout were witty and scintillating. This composer could not be boring even if he tried.

Paul Watkins gave the premiere of his brother Huw's Sonata for Cello and Eight Instruments, and he clearly relished both its energy and quieter moments. Watkins is gifted with a sense of formal hierarchy: from clear beginnings flow significant middles and ends. The close of each movement in his three-movement scheme was a genuine conclusion, not just a pause in otherwise continuous music. His later pieces will doubtless display a more flexible range of chord and gesture. But here he showed himself a likely composer for the new millennium.

Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week