Le tout Londres turned out for this standing room only celebration of John Gilhooly’s ten years at what Iestyn Davies unabashedly called “the best concert hall in the world”. Wigmore regulars rubbed shoulders with royalty, the Lord Mayor, assorted famous novelists / playwrights / actors / directors / conductors, all lapping up an evening of fairly obscure 17th and early 18th century music.
The material in itself speaks volumes: faced with nay-sayers and those who, for reasons best known only to themselves, insisted that the Wigmore’s future lay with appealing to such amorphous concepts as world music, Gilhooly ignored them and steadfastly pursued a policy of even more elitism in the best sense and in the process made the Wigmore the phenomenon it is today.
That’s not to say that there’s absence of innovation – far from it, with ever increasing efforts to involve the young and a refreshing sense of adventure in much of the programming, and it seems that an artist has not only to be sublime but also a tasty blonde in order to feature on the cover of the monthly diaries. Quality is paramount, however, in both artists and repertoire, and this evening’s performance exemplified that both in the complete absence of any attempt to offer easy entertainment, and in the stunning singing and playing.
You have to be daring to begin with Benedetto Ferrari’s ‘Voglio di vita uscir’ – it’s the equivalent of a baritone starting a recital with Schubert’s ‘Totengräbers Heimweh‘ and Iestyn Davies’ performance was remarkable not only for its easy confidence in dealing with a melancholy subject, but its ability go straight to the heart of both text and music. Ferrari again provided Davies and Richard Egarr with music to display their virtuosity and close understanding in the shape of ‘Queste pungenti’ spine which was a model of nuanced expression and florid decoration, culminating in a superb mesa di voce at ‘Ancor non senti amore’.
Yet more doleful shades and suffering in ‘Cestis Disseratevi, abissi’ and extrovert musicianship in Frescobaldi’s ‘Capriccio sopra Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La‘ – how easy Egarr made those phrases over which I sweated blood at school, sound and we had reached the interval, complete with complimentary champers for all.
The second part contained performances of only three works, but what performances they were; Porpora’s Cantata ‘Oh, se fosse il mi core’ surely deserves more frequent hearing, if the voice and harpsichordist can be found to do it justice, which they certainly did here. It’s a very Handelian piece in its combination of elaborate vocal writing with direct evocation of character, here wonderfully presented by Davies in the lines ‘Sento pietade, non son crudele’. Handel made an appearance in the form of the ‘Suite in D minor’, played with astonishing panache and exuberance, and Vivaldis ‘Pianti, sospiri’ brought the scheduled recital to a close with a display of liquid tone, elegant phrasing and bravura execution of fiendishly demanding music.
The two encores were even finer than the rest; a barnstorming ‘Furibondo spiro il vento’ and a sensitively controlled, beautifully phrased account of ‘She moved through the fair’ – which was received with one of those silences which make this hall the unique place that it is. Raise those glasses to the next ten years
Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org