Britten Sinfonia

CHRISTOPHER SMITH The Assembly House, Norwich


The Assembly House, Norwich

A large audience, despite the wintry weather, was testimony to the reputation the Britten Sinfonia has won with its series of lunchtime recitals, and the formula of combining a classic with something familiar from the 20th century and a contemporary composition once again provided just what was wanted.

Nicholas Daniel was the soloist in Bach's E flat Oboe Sonata. Supremely confident and always admirably deft, sprightly in faster sections and suave in the slow movement, he gave a particularly elegant performance. It would, though, have been even better if his accompanist, Julius Drake, had on occasion reined back the volume of the piano and given us more chance to appreciate every graduated nuance.

Britten's famous arrangements of four lyrics by Henry Purcell gave the tenor Charles Daniels plenty of scope. He was dazzling and nimble in florid passages and matched a range of emotions with changes of vocal colour.

The three performers came together for a new work by John Tavener. Songs of the Sky was intended as a memorial to the victims of the 2004 tsunami. The composer, as usual, selected texts expressing his compassion in direct elemental imagery, but turned this time to Oriental and American Indian sources for reflections on life's mysteries.

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Eloquent yet vulnerable, a chant for solo voice and oboe captured attention at the outset, and, with piano coming in to take on a larger role, emotions rang out strongly in the 11 successive sections.

The singer coped well with great demands. His only real problems was with some particularly high notes. He rose to them intrepidly, but his alto tone when he got there was not really very attractive.