To Stratford’s shame, the equivalent of three men and a dog made up the audience at by far the most interesting concert on offer in the town’s autumn music festival.
Perhaps it’s only the cultural tourists who attend artistic events, the locals preferring to stay indoors.
Whatever the case, those of us present for Monday’s evening of British contemporary music from the engaging young Contemporary Consort enjoyed an absorbing musical experience, with plenty of pre- and post-performance conversation and illuminating introductions along the way.
The main thrust of the programme was devoted to music by John Woolrich, well-known to Birmingham audiences, but unfortunately prevented by illness from being present here for the premiere of his A Dramolet, commissioned by the festival (though few of the grandees were in evidence).
This busy little trio for clarinet, cello and piano, time-signatures and dynamics constantly shifting, encompassing within its short time-span a spiky scherzo and spectral exchanges, demanded and received great empathy from these performers.
We also heard from Woolrich his piquant, “skyscaping”, Verlaine-inspired Toward the Black Sky, and his rigorous, many-sided A Presence of Departed Acts, responding to a line in Emily Dickinson’s Remorse.
Stepping back two generations, Frank Bridge’s Three Miniatures for piano trio, charming and deft, provided a richly-delivered interlude of English pastoralism, and the Reveille for violin and piano by his young pupil, Benjamin Britten, was brimful with personality and subtle virtuosity.
Two appropriately Shakespearean works completed the programme: Court Studies from Thomas Ades’ opera The Tempest, strongly delivered, and Mark Bowden’s Stealing Poison.
Trained as a dancer, Bowden here gives us a nimbly choreographic piece, driving with energy in places, jagged in rhythm, but also with many darkly reflective interludes.