Wanamaker Playhouse

Monday’s concert of Masters of The Queen’s Music from Sir Edward Elgar up to myself was given in the remarkable Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, a Jacobean-style small theatre on several galleried levels with (unlike its neighbour The Globe, and praise be) a roof. But very few seat backs – the seating is almost entirely on benches. However, the energetic young team of people who run this lovely venue told us that performers there report a specially alert response from audiences – because, they believe, the listeners too have to make an effort and sit up straight.

This may well have been the case on Monday night, with a remarkable array of performers corralled by the Park Lane Group who have launched so many famous musicians and still have their phone numbers. The wonderful Tamsin Little performed Elgar’s perfect little violin and piano pieces. Clarinettist Harry Cameron-Penny gave an electrifying ‘staging’ of Peter Maxwell Davies’ Hymnos – alas that Max doesn’t live handily for the Globe, to have witnessed this. The Hymnos pianist James Young then had an extreme switch of gears, returning moments later to accompany the silken viola of Diana Mathews in Bax’s Legend. Alissa Firsova played Arthur Bliss’ Masques from memory with as if she plays it every day – though this seems unlikely, given her remarkable range of activities, as composer, pianist and conductor. We probably have to give the palm to soprano Jane Manning, who aged 76, came along to give once again her fascinating Beckett-like version of King Harald’s Saga, the piece she commissioned from me 35 years ago and has supported ever since. I wouldn’t have had a career without her practical encouragement; many other British composers have had the same experience.

The procession of 20th-century MQMs made for a cheerful mix of music. In the days up to PMD’s appointment, the position was for life, meaning that composers were appointed depending on their reputations in the year when a new appointment was suddenly needed. Two out of this bunch that I definitely intend to explore further are Malcolm Williamson (rather Bernstein-like in his communicative, catholic style) and Arthur Bliss( a war hero, and a musical one as well.) Thank you PLG and our ‘sitting up straight’ audience in an attractive new London venue.

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer