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Wigmore Hall, London
Intense performances – by the Calder Quartet, BCMG and Adès himself – featured the composers works alongside influences such as Kurtág and Janácek

The Wigmore Hall’s Xenakis day last month concentrated exclusively on the works of the Greek composer. But the latest of its contemporary music events set Thomas Adès’s music in a much wider context, putting it alongside works by composers whom he admires and who have influenced him. After a lunchtime concert that had included Adès’s Piano Quintet and his second string quartet, The Four Quarters, together with piano duets by Walton and Lutoslawski, the evening concert, featuring the Calder Quartet and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, with Adès himself and Nicolas Hodges sharing pianistic duties, added pieces by Kurtág, Janácek and Gerald Barry to the portrait too.

There were just two of Adès’s own works. The bright, brash Concerto Conciso, which he wrote for BCMG in 1997, packs three movements into just eight minutes of brittle polyrhythms, while his first quartet, Arcadiana, now more than 20 years old, still serves as a perfect demonstration of how he can weave a whole tapestry of musical and extra-musical allusions into his works yet create something that is utterly distinctive and entirely his own.

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St John’s Smith Square; Royal Opera House, London
A rare performance of 11-year-old Mozart’s The First Commandment works a treat. And Ermonela Jaho triumphs in Madama Butterfly

Whatever preconceptions you might have about an opera by an 11-year-old, even if the wonder child in question is Mozart, The First Commandment shatters them all. Written for Lent 1767 but far from pious and at times scurrilous, Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots – literally “the obligation of the first commandment” – meditates on a Christian’s imperative to “Love the Lord thy God”, merrily questioning the existence of the almighty at every turn. Mozart was in Salzburg at the time. Little wonder the suspicious archbishop saw fit, as the story goes, to lock the boy away to see if his compositional skills vanished without his father, Leopold, at his side to “help”. It was a wasted exercise, of course.

The opera is a rarity but far from unknown. Classical Opera performed it a decade ago at the Barbican, and have recorded it in the original German. Now in its third year of working chronologically through Mozart’s oeuvre, the company mounted a new staging at St John’s Smith Square last week, conducted by Ian Page and directed by Thomas Guthrie. It should have run for two nights. The attacks in Westminster on Wednesday forced the second performance to be cancelled. Apart from the regret on every conceivable level – Smith Square is a few hundred yards from Parliament and had to be shut – it is a shame that the excellent young cast and musicians, learning this unfamiliar repertoire with such diligence, lost the chance to play it twice over.

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The Binchois Consort/Kirkman
(Hyperion)

The mysterious and influential John Dunstaple (c1390-1453) is the best known of the composers here. His Missa Da gaudiorum premia and Veni Sancte Spiritus are highlights on a fascinating disc. Commemorating the battle of Agincourt (1415) and other events in the hundred years war, this unaccompanied vocal music explores themes of kingship, martyrdom and nationhood. “England, hope for light for yourself/ after the turbulent darkness” commands the first song, Anglia tibia turbidas. We are lucky to have the Binchois Consort – here, two altos, four tenors – to bring this haunting, often jubilant early English repertoire to full-blooded life. The booklet is illustrated with English carved alabasters from the Castle Museum, Nottingham, where this outstanding consort has had a residency.

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Philippe Jaroussky (countertenor), Emöke Baráth (soprano), I Barocchisti/Fasolis
(Erato)

Orpheus, with or without his lute, is one of the most resonant figures in musical history, the inspiration for dramas from Monteverdi to Birtwistle. This cleverly assembled disc limits itself to the 17th century, and ranges from the Mantuan Orfeo of 1607 through to Antonio Sartorio’s little-known successor of 1672. The presiding genius is countertenor Philippe Jaroussky who sings gloriously (though he is arguably not best suited to Monteverdi’s high tenor hero in his lavish Possente spirto). Jaroussky is well matched by Emöke Baráth’s crystal-clear soprano. Sartorio’s post-Cavalli idiom is sweetly melodic; I was much more taken by the strong, eloquent extracts from Luigi Rossi’s Orfeo of 1647.

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The Nash Ensemble
(Hyperion)

You would never guess that these amiable, good-natured pieces were the product of Max Bruch’s declining years, or indeed that they were written at the end of the first world war, when his fellow Germans were facing severe privations at home and defeat at the front. As he sailed serenely past his 80th birthday, he chose to return to chamber music in a late flowering of creative endeavour. The always rewarding Nash Ensemble add warmth and grace to the sprightly String Quintet in E flat major and bring verve and attack to its edgier A minor companion, but it is in the magnificent String Octet that the players finally allow the sun to truly shine. Recommended.

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An event devoted to one of the UK’s most revered composers, and the second instalment of the pianist’s trio of concerts focuses on the work of Brahms

The latest of the Wigmore’s new music days is devoted to one of the UK’s leading composers. Adès himself takes part in both concerts as pianist, appearing with the Calder Quartet in the lunchtime programme, and both the Calder and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group in the evening concert, where his music will be heard alongside pieces by Janácek, Kurtág and Gerald Barry.

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6 days ago | |
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Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley have starred in his bleakly funny, sometimes dowright horrible plays. As The Treatment is revived at the Almeida, Martin Crimp talks about how his work can scandalise and surprise

The first volume of Martin Crimp’s collected plays begins, not with plays, but with a few tantalising fragments of prose. In one, the narrator describes being invaded by a figure balefully called “the Writer”. The Writer smashes up the narrator’s house, ruins his piano, steals his electric toothbrush. Worst of all are the things he writes. “How can someone who spends so many hours watching the trees change colour, or children skipping, come up with all that pain and brutality?”, the narrator pleads. “Isn’t it perverse?”

In the 35-odd years Crimp has been working, the question has often been asked. Oblique and elusive, his plays occupy a universe not fully like our own – a place sometimes alienating, often bleakly funny, occasionally downright horrible. It’s hard to say how they achieve this effect, except that they embody something first realised by the Greek tragedians: that what we fear is what we can’t exactly see. Asked once to explain what lay behind the cruelty in his works, Crimp replied crisply that “dialogue is inherently cruel”.

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My mother Ruth Loveday-Stanfield, who has died aged 86, was an acclaimed concert pianist both in her own right and as an accompanist to my father, the violinist Alan Loveday.

Ruth was born in Stoke Newington, north London, to Max Steinfield, a diamond cutter and merchant, and his wife, Ada (nee Flatto), an artist. Ruth’s wider family was of Russian-Polish origins and populated with high achievers, including her cousins Jacob Bronowski, the renowned scientist, and Leo Baron, who played an active part in the movement against white rule in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) as a lawyer and later as acting chief justice of the independent country.

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Moser/Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Manze
(Pentatone)

The two major cello works paired up here by Johannes Moser deal with nostalgia in ways that are poles apart. It’s Tchaikovsky’s sunny Variations on a Rococo Theme that comes off best. Moser plays the composer’s original version, and sets off at a brisk trot – rococo is not going to be a byword for prissy. But the lightness is balanced by a gently yearning lyricism, and he shapes the minor-key variation into one long, seamless line. The playful exchanges between cello and orchestra in the next variation are beautifully handled; throughout, Andrew Manze and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande are supportive at every turn. They and Moser also do a lovely job of the three short Tchaikovsky pieces that fill up the disc. Elgar’s dark Cello Concerto brings a performance from Moser that is mercurial, imaginative and, unsurprisingly, more obviously heart-on-sleeve, but the finale feels too impulsive to knit the whole thing together.

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7 days ago | |
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Chiyan Wong
(Linn)

This debut disc from pianist Chiyan Wong is a bit of a guilty pleasure. Liszt’s operatic fantasies are gloriously over the top – unapologetic showcases for the composer’s phenomenal technique and ability to shape a melodic line while the piano explodes around it. Wong skilfully balances fire, flair and levity, and has a knack for nudging the melodies gently round their corners. In the Lisztian spirit, he even adds a few ideas of his own. The Grande Fantaisie on Pacini’s opera Niobe starts playfully then melts into a slow section of ethereal, held-breath delicacy. The Réminiscences on Halévy’s La Juive, plus two better-known Mozart fantasies, complete the selection. The Fantasie on themes from Figaro and Don Giovanni garlands Figaro’s Non più andrai with as many notes as even this tune’s sturdy branches can hold. Listen to all four together and you might feel queasy; one at a time is a treat.

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