Let the florid music praise was a highly apt opening for this recital of Britten, Purcell and Poulenc, in the excellent BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert series. Every time I attend one of these concerts Im inclined to remind readers of how glad we should be to have them neither New York nor Paris has anything like so regular a series, or so distinguished a list of performers. Brittens Purcellian coloratura in all its florid glory comes naturally to John Mark Ainsley that is to say, he makes it appear natural, as unforced as Audens words in this 1937 setting from On this island.
Brittens realisations of Purcell are exciting music when performed like this, especially at moments such as Ainsleys superbly unaffected lingering on the final syllable of Music for a while and Roger Vignoles demonstration of what panache really means in the introduction to the What magic has victorious Love section of Sweeter than roses. Vignoles, a welcome a presence in so many of these recitals, also gave Ainsley the most fluent and sympathetic support in My beloved is Mine which was sung with this artists signature blend of ardour and restraint.
Poulencs Deux pomes de Louis Aragon gave a cleverly contrasting vignette of the composers style, both the wistful C and the caf-concert Ftes Galantes sung with perfect diction, and the hymn-like Priez pour paix gracefully shaped despite the long phrases.
Winter Words was the afternoons major work, so well known yet at times here sounding so unfamiliar, especially in the poetic presentation of The Choirmasters Burial Ainsley takes a much less sardonic approach than Bostridge, the focus being on the choirmasters longing for music at his funeral rather than on the vicars intransigence, but both approaches illuminate. Theres not much in life that beats the combination of Hardys words and Brittens music, especially when sung and played like this, Before Life and After closing the work with perfect understanding of the bittersweet reflections on the innocence before the birth of consciousness.
Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org