Friday, 8 February 2013

Huw Watkins Day, Wigmore Hall

Huw Watkins Day at the Wigmore Hall, 9th February. It's a good retrospective of Watkins's music.

 I'd recommend the 1130 recital because it features Watkins's Four Spencer Pieces, one of the .loveliest pieces by a contemporary British composer. Watkins himself weill be playing. When I reviewed the NMC Recording, I wrote "Four Spencer Pieces (2001) for solo piano, played by the composer himself . Each of these miniature tone poems was inspired by a specific painting, like "Shipbuilding on the Clyde" and "The Resurrection of Soldiers". Stanley Spencer's paintings show ordinary events but lit by preternatural light, every detail crystal clear. The "pictures" are framed by a Prelude and a ravishingly beautiful Postlude in which cascading cadences suggest light, clarity, contemplation. Watkins isn't "illustrating" the pictures so much as expressing the earthy surrealism of Spencer's work, so the rapture of the Postlude is extraordinarly perceptive. This exqusite miniature is the highlight ofthe whole recording."

Alina Ibragimova plays Partita for solo violin at the 3pm concert. "Despite the allusion to Bach, it's not baroque. As Bayan Northcott says in his notes "no double dotted rhythms, no courante, sarabande or gavotte". Alina Ibragimova, the dedicatee, negotiates its tricky turns gracefully, so the wayward molto allegro sounds vivid, even humorous."  Carolyn Sampson sings Watkins's Three Larkin Songs. Watkins is joined by Guy and Magnus Johnston for his Piano Trio.

The main evening concert features Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale for violin, clarinet and piano (Laura Samuel, Matthew Hunt) and Watkins's Trio for horn, Violin and piano, where he'll be joined by yet another Watkins scion, Richard Watkins, the horn player. Mark Padmore will be singing In My Craft or Sullen Art, an ambitious piece that might come over better live than it did, for me, on the recording. It's a setting of texts by Dylan Thomas on the nature of creative art. "Thomas's craft was poetry. Watkins's setting suggests that poetry, like alchemy, has the power to transmute base material into magic, "exercised in the still night when only the moon rages". A strange unworldly cello entices us in, and the first voice setting is relatively straightforward.

A second, longer section where the quartet plays without the voice."Perhaps this is an interlude, but it feels central to the piece, sparking off a completely different setting of the same poem. This time the mood is agitated, insistent. The words "In my Craft or sullen art" are projected like a cry. Mark Padmore adapts his usual smooth urbanity so it captures the surreal nature of the piece. At times he sounds uncannily like Ian Bostridge. This isn't a work for voice and string quartet so much as a work for string quartet with additional voice. In the final strophe of the second setting of text, the strings subsume the human voice, and take over where it leaves off.  That's Huw Watkins's "Craft": singular and very original."

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