Nash Ensemble / Richard Rodney Bennett

A composer who has always brought style, humour and professionalism to his notably varied music, Richard Rodney Bennett has distinguished himself on the screen and the cabaret stage as much as the concert platform. His 1985 Sonata after Syrinx for flute, viola and harp, beautifully performed by members of the Nash ensemble as one element of their two-part 75th anniversary celebration of the composer, shows a fluid grasp of form and wonderful ear for instrumentation, together with a feel for lush and densely layered harmonies that both challenge and reassure the ear.

Whatever one's gifts, caution should be exercised in choosing the guests for one's birthday party, lest their talents outshine one's own. In a concert featuring four other British composers and three world premieres, this danger was most apparent in Simon Holt's new string sextet. Entitled The Torturer's Horse, it consists of four sections whose eerie, sustained textures are menaced by the shockwaves sent out by a single moment of violence. Requiring impeccable ensemble, which it duly received, the piece puts radical uncertainty at the service of a powerful and unsettlingly spare beauty.

The second highlight was provided by Michael Berkeley's settings of three Rilke poems, sung by the soprano Claire Booth....

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