Donizetti wrote Don Pasquale in a matter of weeks. Gustav Holst had six attempts at opera before completing the idiosyncratic S?vitri (1916), for three solo singers, wordless female chorus and chamber ensemble. On Wednesday, Britten Sinfonia and Britten Sinfonia Voices joined forces with Pagrav Dance Company to perform this short rarity, conducted by Mark Elder. Three kathak dancers moved in elegant arabesques around the outstanding vocal soloists, Kathryn Rudge, Anthony Gregory and Ross Ramgobin. In this parable of love, death and illusion, the absorbing aspect was not the drama but the way voices and instrumental textures interweave: the lone lament of a double bass, or the song of a mournful cor anglais. That the Britten Sinfonia has one of the world’s best reed players, Nicholas Daniel, still part of its loyal team, is a coup.

The Holst was the centrepiece of an ambitious three-part event. To start, the Britten Sinfonia strings, bursting with attack and verve, played Benjamin Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge and Grace Williams’s taut and tempestuous Sea Sketches. To end the evening, the ensemble’s leader, director and all-round inspiration, the violinist Jacqueline Shave, performed with tabla virtuoso Kuljit Bhamra and genius guitarist John Parricelli. A Covid diagnosis during rehearsals had forced Shave to yield the front seat for this, her last concert at the helm. Luckily, she was well enough to perform with her trio in a beguiling mix of jazz, Latin, tabla and folk, with the landscape of the Isle of Harris a wistful touchstone.

The question of how concerts should change, post-pandemic – heads are still being scratched – was in part addressed by the freshness of this programming and in part not. Two intervals (oh no) made for a late midweek finish, nerve-racking given the hopelessness of late-night transport, especially in the City, a desert at night. Everyone should have heard Shave in her brilliant star turn, not only the scattered crowd who stayed to the last and cheered.

Holst’s S?vitri ????

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