Richard Morrison, The Times

It’s unfair to expect even the finest musicians to come out of 11 weeks of lockdown and pick up just where they left off, especially when the picking-up is a live recital to several hundred thousand people. Yet if there were a few signs of nerves from that peerless oboist Nicholas Daniel at the start of this BBC Radio 3 recital — the odd squeak in three of Schumann’s Duos, and what seemed like a small memory-lapse in Liszt’s recently rediscovered Elégie — he and his excellent pianist partner Julius Drake produced some extraordinarily powerful music making later on.

Powerful, but also tinged with haunting sadness in the case of two premieres written during lockdown. In Huw Watkins’s Arietta the oboist sustained poignant phrases against sparse, Satie-like piano arpeggios that seemed to meander desolately from key to key. And even starker tragedy was apparent in Michael Berkeley’s A Dark Waltz, finished just after the composer lost a friend to coronavirus.

Its initial piano writing suggested both tolling bells and some dark, Bach-like organ prelude, with the oboe adding an anguished, twisting line in a much higher register. That took us back to the mood of something Daniel and Drake had played superbly earlier: Gerald Finzi’s magnificent 1936 Interlude, which explodes from grey counterpoint at the outset to what sounds like the cry of a wounded heart at its impassioned climax.

Such sombre statements are uncharacteristic of the ebullient Daniel, so it was good that the recital also contained music that more closely matched his flamboyant garb: white jacket, string of pearls round his neck, and surely the sparkliest pair of trainers ever flaunted in the Wigmore Hall. A costume seemingly tailor-made to complement three pieces by Madeleine Dring — a mid-20th-century English composer with an irresistible flair for combining whimsy with quality craftsmanship. Daniel and Drake also revelled in John Linton Gardner’s sophisticated arrangements of popular songs: Jobim’s The Girl from Ipanema, McCartney’s Yesterday and Kern’s All the Things You Are.

With their encore, though, the duo returned to dark matters: not the pandemic this time, but the death of George Floyd. He was commemorated with two minutes’ silence before Tuesday’s Wigmore recital, and more explicitly here by a beautiful performance of Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. As Daniel pointed out in an emotional spoken dedication, it’s a chorale setting that famously demands the most capacious breathing technique from the oboist. To play it in memory of a man whose last words were “I can’t breathe” was provocative but, I felt, entirely heartfelt and justifiable.

The recital is available on BBC Sounds and until July 4

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