In Wigmore Hall, Lawrence Power and Ryan Wigglesworth gave a concert. It is viewable, here, until December 10. Who is Power? He is one of the leading violists in the world. Is that a little like “celebrating the tallest building in Wichita, Kansas,” as William F. Buckley Jr. once said? Maybe, but the viola is a wonderful instrument, despite all the jokes about it.
A search of Google tells me I have reviewed Power twice: in 2007 (Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante) and 2014 (Strauss’s Don Quixote). Back in 2007, I wrote that he “exhibited a beautiful, rich, and satisfying viola sound.” He does indeed make such a sound.
And Ryan Wigglesworth? He is a composer, conductor, and pianist. Like Lawrence Power, he is British. And he is not to be confused with Mark Wigglesworth, who is a (British) conductor, who last year published a fine book: The Silent Musician: Why Conducting Matters. A different search of Google tells me that Ryan and Mark are not related. It’s raining Wiggleworths in the British musical world. And such an English name, isn’t it?
Together, Lawrence Power and Ryan Wigglesworth played a program that began with Dowland, continued with Britten, and ended with Brahms: his Sonata in F minor, Op. 120, No. 1. Brahms wrote this sonata for clarinet, then transcribed it for viola. Indeed, my previous review from Wigmore Hall was of Julian Bliss (clarinet) and James Baillieu (piano), who played that sonata. To me, the viola always sounds slightly wrong in it.
Would I think that if I had never heard the clarinet in Op. 120, No. 1? If I hadn’t heard the clarinet over and over in this music? No.
Though I will tell you this: I think I knew Prokofiev’s Sonata in D as a violin sonata before I ever heard it in its original form—for flute. David Oistrakh loved the sonata so much, he coveted it for his own instrument, the violin. Prokofiev obliged him. Yet when you hear the music played by the flute—it sounds so naturally flutey.
In any event, Lawrence Power and Ryan Wigglesworth are both substantial musicians, and they played an excellent concert, all through.
On the program—after the Britten and before the Brahms—was a new work by Wigglesworth. It came about on this wise, as I understand it: In January, Wigglesworth got a new son. He started writing waltzes for him—or in his honor—for piano. Playing with the letters of the child’s name and so on. When Wigmore Hall asked Wigglesworth to write a work for viola and piano, he turned these waltzes—five of them—into a viola-and-piano work.
They are interesting, inventive, and well crafted, these waltzes. I’m not sure I can discern a waltz in each of them, at all times—but I trust they are waltzy underneath. The five pieces are diverse. You get thorny and spiky (to use those words so often associated with contemporary music). You get playfulness. You get ghostliness, the feeling of a valse macabre.
The work came to feel a little long to me, but (a) what doesn’t? and (b) you cannot fault it as a labor of love—paternal love—or for artistic expertise.
Note that, because of new pandemic rules, there is no audience in Wigmore Hall now. You play only for the worldwide audience, out in Internet-land (which is a wonderful opportunity). Should you bow to the cameras? These performers did not. They did offer an encore, however.
It was a piece by Shostakovich, discovered only in 2017. Apparently, Shostakovich wrote it in 1931, on a single page (one each for viola and piano). He called it “Impromptu.” The little piece was hidden from the public for about eighty-five years. It is charming and clever, and a perfect encore. It starts out like an elegy and becomes a foot-stomping dance. What a pleasant discovery.
Maybe there are more to come?