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Review: Britten Sinfonia - Tavener's Kaleidoscopes @ Milton Court

Posted by Weeping Tudor from Cardiff - Published on 07/10/2014 at 13:19
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  • Britten Sinfonia

Britten Sinfonia

Milton Court Concert Hall, London

Monday 29th September 2014 

Admittedly, Flood of Beauty didn't seem to go down well with critics and an eagerly anticipating audience. Although it it was written in 2006/7, no one appears to have wanted to put on this ambitious work. However, his last premiere, written for the BBC Proms WWI Lights Out collective, the Requiem Fragments, was solemn and beguiling, so it's not all bad. Although Flood of Beauty was a disappointment of sorts, who could argue that John Tavener has created some of the most popular, accessible and exquisite music from a contemporary composer?

Over the road from the Barbican Centre, there lies the brand new Milton Court Concert Hall. This intimate space is perfect for chamber music and is where the Britten Sinfonia wafted over for the next evening's concert. 

Mozart would loom over the opening and closing of this concert, starting with his Adagio for string trio and cor anglais. Nicholas Daniel on the woodwind and the string players dipped us into the tranquil waters of the score. This is Mozart at his most calming and it retained a brief appreciation for his aesthetic as a composer.

Composer Thomas Adès, arrived to play the piano with some more string players for György Kurtág's Doodles (Irka-Firka) for András Mihály's birthday. Along with Adès' arrangement of Kurtág's In Memoriam András Mihály, both little works had a post-modern flavour without too much uneasiness. At moments pleasant and at others bleak, string players were scattered around the hall in the balcony, as if fleeting visitations from celestial beings.

With much buzz around John Adams and his new opera, The Gospel According to the Other Mary, his Shaker Loops is certainly one of his finest concert works. Originally called Wavemaker, the premier for this was not a success. By reworking the piece for more musicians and renaming it, this is how we know the work today: a fine example of a minimalist piece of music. 

The 'shaker' refers to the hurried and anxious bow playing on the strings in repeated tremolo, whilst the 'loops' are nods to the classic minimalists tape concept of using the same material played at varying times to transform into melodic and rhythmic figures that go on forever. With the ebb and flow of the oscillating patterns and textures, it blows the mind to see just a few string players bring out all this in just twenty minutes. 

The last work was the Tavener. His tribute to Mozart (for the 250th birthday of Wolfgang) from 2006 is entitled Kaleidoscopes. In the vein of Messiaen's little work, Un Sourire (another homage to Mozart), Kaleidoscopes mainly retained the sound world of the French composer as opposed to Mozart. Granted, some moments were Mozartian as clear as day. Nicholas Daniel returned this time to play the oboe. With much concentration and wiping of his brow, he gave us playing that should have students taking numerous notes, as the rest of us marvel at his bravado. 

Standing on a podium in the middle of the stage, four sets of string quartets circled around him, in a cross-like formation. The percussionist on the side looked out of it, but his efforts were granted with his temple blows and large gong. There are moments of heightened beauty, as always with Tavener. Even bizarre, creeping music creeps in to interrupt things (my favourite parts). This was grand music. 

Hearing Kaleidoscopes was worth the trip to London alone. 

Rating: 8/10

John Adam's The Gospel According to the Other Mary premieres at the London Coliseum on Friday 21st November 2014 and runs until Friday 5th December 2014

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