Review: Britten Sinfonia; Bury St Edmunds Festival, The Apex; Sunday May 20

We know what to expect from the Britten Sinfonia: their long association with the Bury St Edmunds Festival has guaranteed them an enthusiastic following.

This year they sent an ensemble of five to entertain us, featuring Nicholas Daniel (oboe and cor anglais) as soloist – as fine a player of that demanding instrument as I’ve heard for many a long year. What a tone, what a rich warm sound, what technique. Within seconds of the start of Bach’s Oboe Sonata in E flat major (BWV103) we knew that we were in a safe pair of hands, and that an excellent concert was in prospect.

The Bach concerto was beautifully understated, superbly accompanied by Huw Watkins with nimble fingerwork and flawless articulation – really a quite exceptional performance by both players. Finzi’s Prelude and Fugue, a lyrical, rich, and characteristically quirky piece gave the string trio a chance to shine. Britten’s Phantasy Op 2 was written when he was just nineteen – a one-movement arch-form piece for oboe, violin, viola and cello with his trademark rhythmic and melodic moments – and again an accomplished performance from the Britten Sinfonia players. After the interval the ensemble played Memoria by Cheryl Frances-Hoad (b. 1980) who was in the audience. An exquisite performance followed of the Oboe Quartet in F (K370) by Mozart in which Nicholas Daniel’s virtuosic playing was particularly impressive in the third movement (Rondo).

The final item on the programme, Schumann’s Mondnacht, was dedicated by Nicholas Daniel to the memory of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who had died two days earlier, and the concert closed with a moving and beautiful performance.

Wynn Rees


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