by Rachel Beaumont

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Entirely satisfactory: Nash Ensemble and James Newby at the Wigmore Hall

Music by Debussy, Stravinsky, Poulenc and Ravel
Nash Ensemble and James Newby
Wigmore Hall
Stalls D5, £5 (under-35s)
9 December 2017
Wigmore page

Complete programme:
Claude Debussy Danse sacrée et danse profane
Igor Stravinsky Suite from The Firebird (arr. Philip Moore)
Francis Poulenc Le bal masqué
Maurice Ravel Don Quichotte à Dulcinée, Piano Trio in A minor

I enjoyed this concert tremendously, even in the wake of as it turned out needless heart-sinking when it was announced that Roderick Williams, a singer after whom my soul yearns, was indisposed. The young and aptly named James Newby was his replacement and did a fine job, ably keeping form with the wonderful musicians of the Nash Ensemble in their impeccable taste.

The Nash seems born to play this repertory and they entirely met my high hopes, performing throughout with precision and elegant nuance. Harpist Lucy Wakeford was impeccable in the Debussy, the supporting ensemble also finely attuned to the piece’s rapidly shifting colours. Pianists Simon Crawford-Phillips and Philip Moore were equally superb in the four-hands Firebird, their arms interlaced in a highly satisfactory rendition that functioned as entertaining aide memoire, clarifying study piece and a mysterious independent work of its own right.

On the basis of this performance baritone Newby has begun his career on a secure footing. He gave the appearance of knowing both the Poulenc and the Ravel, neither easy and one devilishly difficult, inside out and upside down, singing with confidence and accuracy and barely referring to the music he’d brought with him. To be able to give such a performance at such short notice can only augur well. In fact my only criticism is that he doesn’t yet sing with much variety of tone, having a slight tendency to shout rather than make the most of the Wigmore’s intimate acoustic (a trap to which many established singers also succumb).

The intricate, energetic Bal masqué was just about my highlight of the evening, though it faced stiff competition in Ravel’s Piano Trio. In both pieces, and indeed throughout, the Nash performed exactly as I would have wished them, bending their collective industry and skill on illuminating the strange, the enchanting and the beautiful in these five cherished works.

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