Nash Ensemble / Friend, Wigmore Hall, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar -->

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The Independent Culture

In an exceptional concert consisting entirely of its own commissions, the Nash Ensemble showed why they are among today's most outstanding and enterprising groups.

The first world premiere of the evening, Mark-Anthony Turnage's Bleak Moments, was scored for horn and string quartet, yet the piece often felt like a mini-concerto, so virtuosic was the horn part. Holst's setting of "In the Bleak Midwinter" inspired the work, and fragments of the carol surfaced. A memorable section marked "ice cold (slower and static)" featured a glacial, muted horn encrusted by slithery string harmonics congealing into brittle, chilly tremolandi. Richard Watkins caught the lyrical side of the horn part as well as surmounting its many technical demands.

Also receiving its first performance, Jonathan Cole's Scrawling Out for oboe and string trio emphasised the "otherness" of the lone woodwind by requiring the oboist to sit across the stage from the strings. This was reflected in the music: the other instruments didn't accompany the oboe so much as shadow it, distorting, anticipating and reinforcing its material. Oboist Gareth Hulse impressed with a reading of some depth, and the interplay between all four players was dazzling.

The rest of the evening consisted of welcome opportunities to hear previous Nash commissions, including Elliott Carter's sparkling showpiece for harp and ensemble, Mosaic (2005), with Hugh Webb's playing full of personality.

The roots of Huw Watkins' Gig, another 2005 Nash commission, lie deep within English music, recalling Bridge in its initial jaunty exuberance and Britten in an intense, beautiful apotheosis. The conductor, Lionel Friend, skilfully balanced the textures, bringing out the harp's frequent role as mediator between the forces of string quartet and woodwind.

Simon Holt's the other side of silence for piccolo/flute, viola and harp (2004) grew out of his music-theatre piece, Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm? It emerged from total stillness with Webernesque precisely and lovingly punctuated individual notes, and the eloquent concluding viola soliloquy was poignant.

Mark-Anthony Turnage's Slide Stride, for piano and string quartet (2002), dedicated to Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, vividly captures his wit and verve in both jazz and classical arenas. Its rhythmic revels were hugely enjoyable.

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