Published – Friday 1 July 2011
Kings Place, London, Thursday 30 June 2011
The latest of Kings Place’s mini-series centres on composer John Woolrich. He has curated three concerts featuring groups with whom he has a particularly close relationship – the Scottish Ensemble, Britten Sinfonia and the London Sinfonietta – all performing Woolrich’s own music alongside that of composers who are particularly important to him.
The Scottish Ensemble’s programme was all about homages. It began and ended with string-orchestra arrangements – Mozart’s tribute to Bach, his C minor Adagio and Fugue K546, and a superb account of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden Quartet D810 in Mahler’s version, which the 12 players managed to make nimble and tightly sprung, as well as sonorously rich.
Within that frame of arrangements for strings were three of Woolrich’s own pieces, two of those recompositions of earlier music. Ulysses Awakes is a paraphrase of Monteverdi, in which a solo viola (Catherine Marwood here) sings the hero’s first great aria from The Return of Ulysses, and 10 more strings surround it with echoes of that early baroque world. It’s a powerfully effective piece, which manages to be utterly faithful to the spirit of Monteverdi and yet entirely part of Woolrich’s musical world, too.
If seven of Wolf’s songs from the Italian Songbook were more straightforward arrangements, then the Capriccio, written by the Scottish Ensemble and its leader Jonathan Morton in 2009, is pure Woolrich. A miniature violin concerto in one movement, it careers along from one abrasive musical idea to the next, before gathering itself into a fierce motoric climax and finally collapsing from exhaustion. It’s a brilliant display piece, which Morton and his group played with tremendous enthusiasm and their usual pinpoint precision.