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Britten, Albinoni, Berkeley, Oldham, Searle, Tippett, Walton, James MacMillan and Vivaldi: Alison Balsom (trumpet),Scottish Ensemble, Sainsbury Royal Academy Soloists, Jonathan Morton, Wigmore Hall, London 17.2.2011 (BBr)

Britten: Prelude and Fugue, op.29 (1943)

Imogen Holst (Theme), Britten (4 Quick and gay), Berkeley (3 Andante), Oldham ( 1 Allegro non troppo), Searle (5 Nocturne), Tippett (2 A Lament), Walton (6 Finale Fuga a la gigue) : Variations on 'Sellenger's Round' (1953)

James MacMillan: Seraph for trumpet and strings (2010) (world première)

Vivaldi: Concerto in D, for four violins, op.3/9 (1711) (transcribed by Alison Balsom for trumpet, violin and continuo)

Tippett: Fantasia concertante on a Theme of Corelli (1953)

The obvious "pull" of this concert was the appearance of Alison Balsom and the attraction of her playing of Albinoni and Vivaldi. However, no matter how fine an artist Alison Balsom is, and she is an artist of considerable talent, Albinoni's Oboe Concerto and Vivaldi's Concerto for four violins don't work when arranged for the trumpet. They sounded pleasant enough tonight but, musically, they were most unsatisfactory.

James MacMillan's new mini-concerto was, necessarily, smaller beer than the magnificent Epiclesis (1993 revised 1998) and, oddly for this composer, it had a very retrogressive feel, recalling 1950s Stravinskian neo-classicism and banal TV music. The outer movements relied too heavily on rhythmic devices at the expense of melody but the middle, slow, movement had an atmosphere of loneliness, the emotion being heightened with a beautiful duet for muted trumpet and solo violin, which would have proved to be the emotional high point of the work but which, within the scheme of the piece, was too long and out of proportion to the surrounding music.

The collective set of variations on Sellinger's Round, created for the Coronation year Aldeburgh Festival, is great fun, diverting and entertaining. It's not without its serious moments - Searle's Nocturne is particularly impressive - but overall it aims to please and tonight the performance was light and frothy - just as it should be. To start and finish the Scottish Ensemble was joined by the Sainsbury Royal Academy Soloists for brilliant performances of Britten's delicious jeu d'esprit, the Prelude and Fugue for eighteen solo strings, written for the 20th anniversary of the Boyd Neel Orchestra, and Tippett's richly conceived Fantasia concertante on a Theme of Corelli. Both proved to be the highlights of the show and the Tippett would have been perfection had it not been for the fact that Jonathan Morton insisted on elongating every breath mark into a pause of too significant proportions.

Bob Briggs


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