Works by Beethoven and Gerald Barry

The first half, however, put one in mind of that proverbial, clichéd
curate’s egg. Adès walked onto the stage and apologetically
informed us that two works had been added to the programme. Nothing wrong
with that, although Beethoven hardly requires apology. The first was his Six Ecossaises, WoO 83, which many of us will recall from
childhood piano lessons. Adès’s performance proved a curious
mixture of the reticent – as though he would rather be playing the
dances at home – and the heavy-handed. It became more flexible, to
good effect, as it went on. Ultimately, though, little was made of these
charming miniatures, whether individually or as a whole.

An die ferne Geliebte
followed, Adès continuing to show a good deal of reticence, for most
of the time very much the ‘accompanist’. Allan Clayton offered
a sincere, verbally attentive performance until the final song, in which he
sounded curiously harsh of tone, even hectoring. Still, there was a good
deal to savour, for instance a true hint of sadness at the close of the
fifth stanza of ‘Es kehret der Maien’. Adès seemed to come
into his own as the cycle progressed. If he still came across as shadowing
the singer at the beginning of ‘Leichte Segler in den
Höhen’, his shaping of a minor-mode phrase at the end of the
third stanza – ‘Klagt ihr, Vöglein, meine Qual’,
offered just the sort of touching insight I had hoped he would bring to the
music of a composer with whom he is not so obviously associated. The
transition to the next song, ‘Diese Wolken in den Höhen’
was also skilfully handled.

The second additional work was In questa tomba oscura, WoO 133,
Beethoven’s setting of a poem by Giuseppe Carpani, amongst other
things an early biographer of Haydn (and royalist spy!) This proved a duly
haunting performance of a song whose text has a man visit the grave of his
beloved, albeit from the standpoint of the latter, who reproaches her lover
for not having thought more of her whilst she was alive. Perhaps again
Adès might have brought out the piano part more strongly.
Beethoven’s harmonies nevertheless told – and there is much to
be said for understatement. Clayton clearly relished its challenges,
heightening without overstating its curious drama.

‘Curious’ is certainly a word to be applied to Lewis Carroll,
and to Gerald Barry, let alone to their combination in Jabberwocky
, commissioned and premiered by Britten Sinfonia in 2012. The idea of
performing its nonsense words in French and German translation is typically
brilliant – and makes just as much (non)sense as the original.
Clayton’s declamatory performance perhaps inevitably put one in mind
of Barry’s brilliant operatic comedy, The Importance of Being Earnest. Alex Wide’s bizarre horn
flourishes added another level to the studiously inexplicable entertainment
unfolded. The song – should one call it a ‘song’? –
seemed, almost in spite of itself, to grow, even to develop. And then it
was over.

Additional wind players joined the ensemble after the interval for
Beethoven’s Quintet for piano and wind instruments, op.16. It was the
sheer gorgeousness of their sonorities that struck me first – and
Beethoven at his most Mozartian (or, his tragedy, post-Mozartian). Balance
with the piano here sounded much improved; there was greater impetus to the
performance too. This is music that needs plenty of space, a grandeur of
scale if you will, as well as chamber intimacy; it received both. The
second movement was again well paced, its post-Mozartian sadnesses again
given space to breathe, yet also to progress. Here, Adès could prove a
little indulgent, his solo rubati occasionally puzzling; in
concert, however, everything delighted. The hunting finale again summoned
up Mozart’s ghost – as opposed to Haydn’s ebullience.
Yet, quite rightly, not all was subtlety, not all was interiority. That
balance and others were finely judged, in a performance of almost tiggerish

Mark Berry


Beethoven: Six Ecossaises, WoO 83; An die ferne Geliebte,
op.98; In questa tomba obscura, WoO 133; Gerald Barry: Jabberwocky; Beethoven: Quintet in E-flat major, op.16. Allan
Clayton (tenor); Alex Wide (horn); Timothy Rundle (oboe); Joy Farrall
(clarinet); Sarah Burnett (bassoon); Thomas Adès (piano). Milton Court
Concert Hall, London, Wednesday 23 May 2018

image_description=Ludwig van Beethoven
product_title=Works by Beethoven and Gerald Barry
product_by=A review by Mark Berry
product_id=Above: Ludwig van Beethoven