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Elgar, John Woolrich and Britten

Elgar: Serenade op.20 (1892)
John Woolrich: Capriccio

Britten: Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, op.31 (1943)

Peter Davoren – tenor, Estefanía Beceiro Vázquez – horn, Dabiel Pioro – violin, Royal Academy Soloists, Clio Gould (director)

Duke’s Hall, Royal Academy of Music, Marlebone Road, London – 12 March 2010


The Academy’s Free on Fridays series can always be guaranteed to offer something of interest and today was no exception. Starting with a lovely, relaxed, performance of the Elgar Serenade, with all the right tempi, the slow movement a real Larghetto, this was a well conceived view of this lovely work, and with a small string ensemble of 44321 the textures were as clear as you could wish.


John Woolrich’s Capriccio is a concerto movement for violin, a piece without problems, witha smile on its face throughout its short duration. It’s no an easy piece to play, and the listener certainly has to work, but it’s worth the effort for Woolrich is always interesting and a study of his works always pays rewards. There is a lot of humour in this work - no bad thing for there is a dearth of lighter music these days and this is a little winner. Daniel Pioro played it with a confident ease which made it all the more approachable.


The main event was Britten’s beautiful  Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings. Britten’s music for Peter Pears is always difficult for other singers because Pears’s voice was quite unique and the high tessitura can be tiring for others. Also there was a lightness to Pears’s voice and there aren’t many who can match this especially in the melismata Britten so often writes – the late Philip Langridge and the Ians Bostridge and Partridge have been amongst the best.


Peter Davoren is possessed of a fine lyrical voice, not too heavy, and with a fine musical mind. His breathing was exemplary, and he could deliver the longest of phrases without having to cut up the musical line. He employs a slow vibrato, which he needs to really think about, for his employment of it throughout the first, Charles Cotton, setting was annoying and for the Keats Sonnet he seemed to feel that a vibrato was necessary on almost every note.


Hornist Estefanía Beceiro Vázquez made a splendid partner, matching Davoren perfectly. She wasn’t afraid to let go at times and her part in the Dirge was truly hair raising. However, her exit from the stage after the Ben Jonson setting was accompanied by the clatter of high heels; it looked, and sounded, as if she was storming off the stage after some disagreement with the other musicians. Sensible shoes would make much more sense, and much less noise. Something like that can ruin a performance, and presentation is as important as playing well.


Clio Gould had prepared her small band of players very well and their rapport was superb. Musically, a very fine show indeed.


Bob Briggs