Elliot’s The Waste Land is famously one of literature’s most wilfully obscure poems: densely packed with references and deliberate artifice.
The seven-piece vocal ensemble I Fagiolini has something of a similar reputation, mixing music and cultures in unusual but studied ways. Director Robert Hollingworth has a spritely academic air, simultaneously impish and stupendously well informed.
So it was somehow unsurprising to find actor Timothy West, unbilled, narrating Monday night’s concert mixing Elliot with several short pieces, or to find the original programme had been shuffled about somewhat.
There was even less surprise in the technical ability of the group, equally adept when tackling sixteenth century religious pieces as world premieres with almost conversational styles, such as Joanna Marsh’s setting of PattiAnn Roger’s Geocentric.
More surprising, given the professed environmental theme and the wildness of nature evoked by so many of the pieces, was that it all felt so polite; an intellectual exercise rather than an emotional release. This was a superb evening of music; but tamed, not wild.