Spitalfields Festival Christ Church Spitalfields, London

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The Independent Culture
Christ Church Spitalfields has a way of defying notions of time and space. Hawksmoor's 18th-century edifice successfully played host on Monday evening to a pair of concerts featuring 20th-century repertoire and new works, yet also kept an antique air. Perhaps it was that cavernous interior, to these eyes, at least, strangely recalling the vastness of Rome's Basilica of Maxentius. Or perhaps it was those Corinthian capitals, chiming with the line about Sophocles, long ago, hearing it on the Aegean, that form the central oration of Matthew Arnold's poem "Dover Beach". Famously set for baritone and string quartet in1931 by Samuel Barber, it was performed in the second of the two concerts by the Brindisi Quartet and William Dazely in solemn, rhetorical manner. White tie, tails and all the trimmings seemed superfluous to this music, but his account was moving none the less, tactfully partnered by the four players under their leader Jacqueline Shave.

Dazely's more important role was in the London premiere of Julian Anderson's song-cycle on poems of Emily Dickinson, I'm nobody, who are you?. Violin and piano surrounded the voice in a nimbus of pristine tone colours for these five texts, handpicked, one suspects, for their musical qualities and clothed in sounds of quite the most convincing poetry yet to flow from Anderson's pen. "The nearest dream", for voice and violin alone, matched string harmonies with Dazeley's dark baritone, and made them fit perfectly. In notation the notes looked plain, yet in performance they became a flexible, responsive vocal medium, both following the words and building on them to make subtle miniatures that also worked to cumulative effect right up to the last, clinching number, "I died for beauty".

Aided by piano and string quartet, violinist Thomas Bowes had already taken the solo lead in Chausson's taxing D major Concerto, and was again partnered here by Julius Drake in the lean accompaniment. Earlier, with composer-pianist Eleanor Alberga at the keyboard, he'd given the world premiere of Adam Gorb's Violin Sonata, a no less strenuous work that tested and proved his powers of stamina through its one-movement journey from tranquillity to upheaval to a measure again of qualified calm.

Working on the principle that nothing's the same the second time round, the piece concluded with fragile, luminous material brought back from the opening, but disfigured by the sense of lost innocence after a devilish scherzo in fine Shostakovich style. This was a tour de force, ambitious in form though never heavy-handed, the piano kept largely in the upper register to match the fiddle's machine-like torrent of notes. A macabre waltz surfaced then submerged as the scherzo-machine renewed its operation into the final pages. These were most memorable, a phrase softly repeated, before slowly breaking down like a sob dissolving into silence.

Music for solo quartet had framed the occasion: Ravel's F major Quartet and Barber's Adagio, in which the Brindisis excelled themselves. Their phrasing was firm yet pliant, their eloquence growing from the power of restrained emotion.

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