I can think of few better ways to spend a Monday lunchtime, especially a very rainy Monday lunchtime in June. It was a pleasure to duck away from the milling shoppers on a very greasy, wet Oxford Street, and slip into the plush, civilised embrace of the Wigmore for a concert by two charming Frenchman (François Leleux and Emmanuel Strosser) of music for oboe and piano by Britten, Poulenc and Dutilleux. I was “off duty” yesterday, i.e. not reviewing, merely meeting a friend to enjoy some quality music, followed by a chatty lunch at Comptoir Libanais, just across the road from the hall.
It’s a while since I heard live woodwind, and, from my vantage point in row B, I was able to enjoy the physicality of the oboist’s performance. It was wonderful to hear his breath actually being pushed into the instrument, and the click-clacking of his fingers on the keys as he wrought a huge range of colours, moods and shadings from the music. Britten’s Six Metamorphoses, a work for oboe alone, was introduced with great humour, and played with wit. The Poulenc Sonata was both wistful and jazzy, while the Dutilleux contained nods to his contemporary, Olivier Messiaen. The musicians were clearly good friends, evident from the ease of their body language as they performed. They were genial and smiling, and we, the audience, smiled back. An encore “by a very famous French composer [Saint-Saens]” (more smiles and good-natured laughter) was generous and humorous.
I have never been to an indifferent concert at lunchtime at the Wigmore; and I have been to some truly superb lunchtime concerts. The 2pm end time means there is still time for a late lunch: a while back a friend and I went to the restaurant at the Wallace Collection for lunch, which was really wonderful treat. Often you can pick up a ticket on the door, and the lunchtime recitals are excellent value at £12 (concessions £10). Go on, try it. You know you want to.