Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Nash Ensemble / Ainsley @ Wigmore Hall, London

12 December 2015

John Mark Ainsley(Photo: Marc Eskenazi)

John Mark Ainsley
(Photo: Marc Eskenazi)

You can always rely on the Nash Ensemble to construct illuminating, thought-provoking programmes and to present them with the ideal soloists, and this selection of Mozart, Respighi, Rossini and Mendelssohn was typical of the Nash style. String Quintets by the first and last of these composers framed vocal works demanding the kind of virtuosity in which John Mark Ainsley specializes, including some rarely heard pieces which fitted the overall theme to perfection.

Mozart’s visit to Italy with his father, in 1770, Mendelssohn’s 60 years later as a young man taking the ‘Grand Tour’ and the establishment around half a century later of the ‘generazione dell’ottanta’ provided the thematic link here, although there was another link between the opening and closing works, with Mozart’s and Mendelssohn’s String Quintets both in B flat major and both chiefly remarkable for their austere, melancholy slow movements. Both quintets were given lively, fluent, mellifluous performances, the Mendelssohn in particular highlighting the vulnerable quality of the Adagio and the exceptional togetherness achieved by the players.

Respighi’s Deità silvane had been adapted by David Matthews from the version first heard in 1926, and it proved the ideal vehicle for displaying the strengths of the ensemble, especially the oboe (Gareth Hulse) and harp (Lucy Wakeford). Antonio Rubino’s text is full of lush, languid evocations of woodland deities, and it requires a singer who can achieve not only complete mastery of the long phrases needed to present descriptions of flutes warbling liquid laments and of course nymphs all over the place, mostly fleeing more nimbly than wild beasts or bending their seductive bodies, but the ability to communicate all that stuff with absolute sincerity. Needless to say it would be impossible to imagine anyone doing it better than Ainsley, who also managed to evoke the fleeting beauty of the phrases, especially in ‘Musica in horto’ and in the final lines of ‘Crepuscolo.’

One of Respighi’s better-known works, Stornellatrice, began the concert’s second half; a favourite of William Lyne, who was present in the audience, it was gracefully dedicated to him. Ainsley’s singing of the mournful lines almost out-Gedda’ed the great Swede for sheer italianità and sweetness of tone, and Ian Brown’s playing echoed its plaintive quality.

Rossini’s Les soirées musicales was first published some six years after the composer had abandoned the writing of operas, and the three songs chosen for this evening were all fairly operatic in style, and all were performed with elegance, wit and panache. ‘La partenza’ and ‘La promesa’ are both settings of Metastasio and both demand the highest level of declamatory skill, whereas ‘La gita in gondola’ with its barcarolle rhythm and amorous text, needs a much more whimsical approach. Both singer and pianist met the challenges superbly.

The next concert in this series, on January 16th, should prove equally enticing; it includes songs by Mendelssohn sung by Roderick Williams as well as Mozart’s G minor String Quintet (K516).

Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org.uk.

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