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The RVW Trust at 50

Wigmore Hall, 7 Nov 2006

Dante String Quartet
Robert Murray (tenor)
Andrew Sparling (clarinet)
Simon Crawford-Phillips (piano)

Edmund Rubbra: String Quartet No. 1 in F minor Op. 35
Michael Finnissy: Brighton!
Chris Mayo: passed the last river
Elisabeth Lutyens: Valediction (in memory of Dylan Thomas) Op. 28
Gabriel Jackson: The White Bird
Ralph Vaughan Williams: On Wenlock Edge

This celebratory concert (the invitees to the private reception seemed to comprise most of the substantial audience) began and finished in strength. Regrettably, we need reminders of the power and sheer quality of Rubbra's quartets, which the Dante Quartet have long championed (see performances at Blackheath and Dutton CDs) - they haven't made it to the regular repertoire; they should have.

Vaughan Williams' On Wenlock Edge is not so viable as Butterworth's settings of Housman, but came up fresh as paint with the vivid accompaniment of Simon Crawford-Phillips & the Dante String Quartet; balance perfectly judged to support Robert Murray's committed account of the songs.

For the novelties, Covent Garden Jette Parker Young Artist, Robert Murray (pictured) drew the short stick, and heroically tackled Michael Finnissy's Brighton! (2006). Poor Murray was required to fragment the words and destroy a potentially interesting and witty text, which conflates the experience of Saxons from the Dark Ages in the locality with people of today, drawing on an 1862 history of Brighton by Erredge. As set by Finnissy, with viola and viola scratching, plinking and plonking - "spectating", so we're told - it was a dour, dire ten minutes or so.

Finnissy was allotted the most space in the programme and his supporters were there in force. In the interval we overheard one admirer congratulate him saying "best ever"; another explained to me "well, it's experimental, that's what he does these days".

Andrew Sparling (clarinet) was the other hero of the evening. With Simon Crawford-Philli by ps he gave a compelling account of Lutyens serial valediction, and an arresting pieceGabriel Jackson (pictured) inspired by a failed Atlanic crossing in 1927 in a Levasseur seaplane The White Bird. Also on a travel theme was the younger Christopher Mayo's clarinet quintet passed the last river (crossing North America in 1793) with a complicated programme note about its structure which the composer has copyrighted, so I shall not betray his secrets...

This concert drew me back to Housman, and I should like to end by recommending the Helios re-release of Hyperion's CD of three song cycles to A E Housman's A Shropshire Lad poems [Helios DCH55187] with a fine account of Vaughan Williams' On Wenlock Edge (Adrian Thompson) coupled with some familiar and others less so from the collection by Ivor Gurney - 'fine poet and fine composer' (Michael Hurd).

Peter Grahame Woolf