Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Ainsley / Vignoles @ Wigmore Hall, London

16 May 2011

‘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 I’m 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. Britten’s 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 Auden’s words in this 1937 setting from On this island.

Britten’s realisations of Purcell are exciting music when performed like this, especially at moments such as Ainsley’s superbly unaffected lingering on the final syllable of ‘Music for a while’ and Roger Vignole’s 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 artist’s signature blend of ardour and restraint.

Poulenc’s Deux poèmes de Louis Aragon gave a cleverly contrasting vignette of the composer’s style, both the wistful ‘C’ and the ‘café-concert’ ‘Fêtes Galantes sung with perfect diction, and the hymn-like ‘Priez pour paix’ gracefully shaped despite the long phrases.

Winter Words was the afternoon’s 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 choirmaster’s longing for music at his funeral rather than on the vicar’s intransigence, but both approaches illuminate. There’s not much in life that beats the combination of Hardy’s words and Britten’s music, especially when sung and played like this, ‘Before Life and Afte’r 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

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