Britten Sinfonia’s programme was puzzlingly constructed and disappointingly performed.
It seemed to be a tribute to Purcell, but lost its way. Purcell’s clarity, bite, melodic invention, irregular phrases and odd dissonances inspired many 20th-century composers, some with great success.
To begin the concert with Purcell’s Abdelazar music, the theme for Britten’s masterly Young Persons Guide variations, signalled the intention well, and Britten’s Serenade for Tenor Horn and Strings was spot on – Britten being the best setter of English words after Purcell himself.
But Tippett’s Little Music did not obviously reflect his interest in Purcell. John Woolrich’s Another Staircase Overture was a collection of Purcell quotes stitched together in Woolrich’s vague elegiac style which is the antithesis of Purcell.
The Three Songs of Purcell, arranged by Woolrich from a previous version by Tippett, were pallid.
Vaughan Williams’ Thomas Tallis Fantasia was inspired by a composer from an earlier and musically different century than Purcell’s.
The Sinfonia played with soft chocolate-box pretty tone – muscle and sinew airbrushed out.
Tippett’s Little Music was too refined a performance to be either Tippett or Purcell. James Gilchrist (Tenor) and Stephen Bell (Horn) tried to inject drama into the Britten Serenade over the Sinfonia’s neutral accompaniment, and the Vaughan Williams had no passion or mystery.