No one could accuse the Wigmore Hall’s lunchtime series of playing it too safe. There are plenty of surprises and novelties in the programmes to come, and oboist Nicholas Daniel’s recital with pianist Julius Drake included no less than three pieces being broadcast for the first time.
All three are pervaded by a sense of fragility and loss. Two were only finished during the Covid lockdown – Huw Watkins’s Arietta suspends a swooping soaring melodic line over rippling accompaniments, while Michael Berkeley’s A Dark Waltz emerges haltingly from the penumbrous lower registers of the piano. The third was by Liszt – his Elégie No 1 is best known as a solo piano piece, though it’s sometimes heard in a version for cello and piano. Recently, though, it’s been discovered that it was first composed for cor anglais and, as Daniel showed, the drooping, rather Tristan-esque phrases suit that intrinsically melancholy instrument well.
If the sombre mood had already been set by Howard Ferguson’s arrangement of Gerald Finzi’s serene Interlude, its mix of nostalgia and regret perfectly balanced by Daniel and Drake, then Madeleine Dring’s Tango, Waltz and Italian Dance provided a more upbeat interlude, neat miniatures that gave the duo a chance to unwind a little.
They framed their programme with more oboe-and-piano arrangements – three of Schumann’s pedal-piano studies, also reworked by Ferguson, and three 20th-century standards – The Girl from Ipanema, Lennon and McCartney’s Yesterday and Jerome Kern’s All the Things You Are, given jazzy makeovers by John Linton Gardner, which were really relished by Drake. And there was another arrangement as an encore – Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, played with seamless purity by Daniel, and dedicated to the memory of George Floyd.