Thursday, June 04, 2020

Wigmore Hall, London

Oboe and piano made for a delightful hour-plus of music in this latest live Wigmore Hall recital. Nicholas Daniel and Julius Drake, a long-established duo, effortlessly interacted in a varied programme, opening with three pieces for pedal-piano by Robert Schumann arranged by Howard Ferguson; very expressive and nicely done by all concerned. Ferguson also transcribed Gerald Finzi’s Interlude (originally for oboe and string quartet); Drake’s sensitive touch and Daniel’s poetic piping revealed all of Finzi’s characteristic poignancy and depth of feeling.

Daniel gravitated to the deeper tones of a cor anglais for a Liszt work, Elegy, recently rediscovered by Liszt guru Leslie Howard; rather lovely if sad, there is no doubting the inimitability of the writing. There followed three attractions by Madeleine Dring. The music lived up to the titles’ billing: Tango; Waltz; Italian Dance, the last-named a knees-up of a tarantella.

Two premieres were included. Huw Watkins’s weeks-old Arietta (for violin and piano, arranged by the composer), introspective and haunting, and Michael Berkeley’s two-year-old A Dark Waltz, newly extended for this occasion and with Covid-19 connotations, questions asked imploringly and rising in intensity.

A change of beat for the closing lap, three great tunes, in arrangements by John Linton Gardner. The Girl from Ipanema comes off well ‘vocally’ on the oboe (but see Frank’s version with the composer strumming, link below); so too, wistfully, Paul McCartney’s Yesterday; and – reaching the finishing post – Jerome Kern’s All the Things You Are, opening as a love letter and then dancing with a syncopated smile.

Encore time: Myra Hess’s transcription (“adapted” by Daniel) of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (from a J. S. Bach Cantata); that proved to be the icing and marzipan on top of what had already been a rich fruit cake, spiritual succour.

Throughout, the atmosphere was blissfully quiet and focussed – no audience of course – and Radio 3 presenter Andrew McGregor must be mentioned in dispatches for allowing several seconds of silence following each piece before speaking (some other music-based radio stations aren’t so civilised). Indeed the only unwarranted sounds were mine, for my ears only, while sitting at my desk – that of slurping tea and munching biscuits: do that within the hallowed Hall that is the Wigmore and you’d be slung out, and rightly so.