4 May 2022, Barbican Centre, London

This was brilliant programming by the Britten Sinfonia, and although the concert going public did not turn out in force (the Barbican barely a quarter full), it was good to know at least some British Music Society members were in attendance.

The evening began with Sir Mark Elder conducting Grace Williams’ Sea Sketches. Not a work I was familiar with, and it was a first for Elder as well who told the audience how much he had enjoyed discovering this evocative work. For myself, the five Sketches formed a convincing whole with Williams’ typically rich, sonorous string writing making the perfect opener in this programme. For me, this was the highlight of the concert, with Williams’ music able to touch the heart with its directness and warmth. Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge followed with all the expected theatrical boldness and technical brilliance of this composer. 

With Holst’s Hymns of the Rig Veda I was once again on familiar territory. These were beautifully performed by the Britten Sinfonia Voices with Sally Pryce on harp. Once or twice I longed for a fuller body of sound from the chorus, nothing to do with the quality of the voices which were excellent, but more to do with the numbers on stage.

Then the work which had enticed me all the way from the Cotswolds, Holst’s Savitri (pictured above). This was my first performance and it was an intriguing one. There were no props, with the three soloists dressed in black and the stage mostly blacked out. Nor was any of the drama acted out on stage with the singers mostly pretty stationary. This minimalist setting, however, was the perfect foil for the three dancers from the Pagrav Dance Company. Choreography by Urja Desai Thakore presented fluid hand movements further highlighted by the dancers also wearing black. Their abstract movements made good use of the stage space and gave the production flow. I wasn’t totally convinced that what I saw and heard was an opera, though it was certainly music theatre, and the singing from Kathryn Rudge (the wife, Savitri), Anthony Gregory (her husband, Satyavan) and Ross Ramgoblin (Death) was sublime.

Review by Wendy Hiscocks