MUSIC / Nash Ensemble - Purcell Room, SE1

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The Independent Culture
Having produced two premieres in its opening concert, the Nash Ensemble's 20th-Century Series unveiled another pair of new works on Thursday. Commissioned with funds from IBM, surely amongst the most enlightened of today's music patrons, Colin Matthews's Three-Part Chaconne for string trio and piano, and Jonathan Harvey's Lotuses, for string trio plus a variety of flutes, were framed by early and late Britten. Ravel's Sonata for violin and cello, craftsmanly but difficult to love, added a French element to the programme.

In the Chaconnne, the balance problem was solved by limiting Ian Brown's part on the piano to the lefthand; the result saw severe octave statements in the strings pitted against rippling keyboard passage-work. The cool opening yielded to warmth, the argument proceeding to its conclusion with satisfying inevitability.

The thread of ideas in Lotuses was less easily grasped. For the uninitiated at least, its division of material into masculine and feminine types, and the buddhist exultation of its title, seemed unrelated to the music. Some further form of explanation would have been helpful.

There followed a switch to the very Western world of Greek tragedy, mezzo Sally Burgess singing nobly the cantata in Phaedra, set by Britten to Robert Lowell's translation of Racine's text. Earlier, oboist Gareth Hulse had given a bright, compact account of the youthful Phantasy quartet, Op 2.

Recommended interval browsing was Humphrey Carpenter's new Britten biography, on display in the Festival Hall bookshop.

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