Nash Ensemble/Paul Kildea, Wigmore Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

New logo, new era? The current management of the Wigmore Hall has certainly gone heavily for interior decoration.

New logo, new era? The current management of the Wigmore Hall has certainly gone heavily for interior decoration. This review could well devote itself to the complex question of whether the repro side-lights attain period authenticity enough to transcend naffness. Or whether the new carpets "based on shifting musical notations" do not rather resemble off-cuts from Cyril Lord.

Yet here, after all, was the Hall's new artistic director, Paul Kildea, not only proclaiming his faith in the future by opening his season with a substantial commission, but conducting it himself. Set to specially written verses by the essayist and editor Alberto Manguel, Six Songs for the Unquiet Traveller is the first major British showing for the Argentine-born composer Oscar Strasnoy, who comes to us with a string of Continental triumphs and the imprimatur of Luciano Berio.

His settings of these alienated "postcards" from various climes certainly demonstrated a precise ear and nifty range of post-modern stylistic reference, from the new-minted consonances and sleazy jazz of the opening number to the driving mechanism of the finale - all duly relished by the Nash Ensemble. One might, at times, have been listening to one of Elliott Carter's later song sets as if recomposed by the young Thomas Adès. Only the vocal writing, specially composed for Ann Murray, disappointed, pecking at the words but mostly failing to deliver the long lines that might have clinched each song as an entity.

Murray was joined by the Australian tenor Steve Davislim is the second half for Mahler's hour-long Das Lied von der Erde in the reduced, 14-player arrangement roughed out by Schoenberg for his post-First World War Society for Private Musical Performances, and realised by Rainer Riehn. As Kildea pointed out in his note, the rationale for doing this version today is no longer to get to know a once-unfamiliar score, but to allow the voices and instruments to realise the chamber music intimacy latent in the full orchestral original.

His conducting of the work proved crisp in ensemble, especially musical in its command of long-term phrasing, and deficient in only one dimension: control of dynamics. So responsive is the acoustic of the Wigmore Hall that an ensemble of this size actually needs to be restrained if it is not to overwhelm. As it was, Davislim had to battle almost as heroically as in a full orchestra performance against the onslaught of the opening number, while in louder passages elsewhere, Murray's tone tended to spread stridently. It was in the more transparent passages of the Autumnal second song and the great Farewell finale where, accompanied by just two or three instruments, she was able to sing "within the voice" and evoke true poignancy.

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