Padmore/Britten Sinfonia – review

West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge

Tenor Mark Padmore and the Britten Sinfonia are regular collaborators, and their latest project is an all-English sequence of song and string works centred upon Finzi and Purcell. Finzi's cantata Dies Natalis is the main work in the programme, though apparently not all of the venues on the orchestra's tour wanted that work, and in those places the programme includes Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Torn and Strings instead. They are missing something very special, though, for their account of Dies Natalis is exceptional, a reminder that this setting of poems by Thomas Traherne is one of the masterpieces of 20th-century English music.

Previous generations of tenors have tended to treat Finzi's ecstatic word setting cautiously, keeping their emotional distance, bleaching their tone, and making the whole thing rather churchy. Even if a few of his emphases were mannered, Padmore made it much more warmly expressive, the childhood innocence and wonder of the texts joyously conveyed, and the balance between voice and strings ideal, though three Purcell songs (edited by Tippett and arranged for string orchestra by John Woolrich) fared slightly less well.

The rest of the concert was superbly played by the Britten Sinfonia. Tippett's Little Music is heard much less often than his two larger-scale string-orchestra works, while Walton's Sonata for Strings, a late arrangement of the string quartet he wrote in the mid-1940s, runs through the familiar repertoire of Walton gestures stylishly enough. There was a newly renovated piece, too – Woolrich's Another Staircase Overture, composed for the Purcell anniversary in 1994. It's an overlong homage, stuffed with quotes and Purcellian allusions.

Broadcast on Radio 3 on Friday.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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