From the emotional muscularity of Brahms to the spiky mystery of Britten, to the glittering, pinpoint invention of a new work by Ryan Wigglesworth, the viola player Lawrence Power can communicate effortlessly in any dialect music offers. No nuance or syntax or idiom feels anything but natural in his hands. His recital on Monday, with Wigglesworth his equal partner as pianist, was a highlight – not that there’s a shortage – of Wigmore Hall’s live online concert series, also broadcast on Radio 3.
The programme had its own internal harmony. Britten was a viola player. Like Wigglesworth, he had the triple skills of composer-conductor-pianist. Music by Britten’s friend Shostakovich provided an encore: his recently discovered Impromptu, Op 33, apparently written on what must have been a fairly large napkin. Power began by playing, unaccompanied, “If my complaints could passions move”, the sorrowful lute song by the Elizabethan John Dowland, which inspired Britten’s masterpiece Lachrymae, Op 48 – 10 variations on that tune, fragmentary “reflections”, as he called them, which only reveal Dowland’s theme at the end.
Ever dedicated to the new, Power has brought to life several new works in lockdown, one of which necessitated playing outdoors on a rooftop. Safely indoors, to an inevitably empty hall, he gave the world premiere of Wigglesworth’s Five Waltzes, a Wigmore Hall commission. This intricate and at times playful set of short pieces was written for Wigglesworth’s newborn son, and is a welcome addition to the virtuoso viola player’s repertoire.
Last came Brahms: the F minor sonata, Op 120 No 1, one of his late, glorious chamber works, originally for clarinet but adapted by the composer himself. Brahms remains bafflingly misunderstood, considered lugubrious, heavy, even – let me not be mad – turgid. Listen to this duo’s performance and never again doubt that every note of Brahms comes transparently from the heart.