Neatly programmed, Thursday’s lunchtime concert featured original compositions and arrangements of medieval music from Harrison Birtwistle, performed by the talented members of the Britten Sinfonia.
We began with his arrangement of Hoquetus David by the medieval French composer-poet Guillaume de Machaut. Primarily, the music gave the impression that it was indeed incredibly sophisticated for a piece from such a period, Birtwistle simply changing orchestration and adding decoration. His own composition, Double Hocket for piano trio, is based on the Machaut. However, with its clashing, uncomfortable chords and no apparent melodic line in violin or viola part, it was uneasy on the ears and the motif ideas hard to grasp.
This was similar in Birtwistle’s Verses and Lied. Verses, a subdued piece, consisted mainly of clarinet emitting long, crescendo-ing notes, again accompanied by clashing piano chords, and the lack of aural harmonic relation between sombre cello and more diverse piano made for tough listening in Lied.
In contrast to this, Birtwistle’s arrangements of various movements from Bach’s Art ofFugue drew enjoyable and beautifully lyrical performances from each individual player.
Birtwistle’s added syncopation and duets between cello and viola were teasing, and his rhythmic reworking of Ut heremita solus by Ockeghem included the typical Birtwistle fingerprint of Eb and bass clarinet.
Unrelated to the concert’s main core was Christopher Mason’s Noctiluence on its world premiere tour.
Soft intervals from the piano glimmered with clashing semitones from glockenspiel, and the expertise of the ensemble did the music justice.