A performance of Nicholas Maw’s Roman Canticle by Roderick Williams and members of the Nash Ensemble at the Wigmore Hall on 7 February provides the perfect opportunity to reassess this perfectly-crafted work afresh.
Subtitled ‘Two in the Campagna’, the piece adds voice to the standard trio of flute, viola and harp (the instrumental combination used by Debussy in his 1917 Sonata) and was singled out by The Times for its ‘harmonic eloquence and rhythmic fervour’. Sculpting gracious, lyrical vocal lines from Browning’s famously unwieldy verse, Maw is once again shown to be a subtle and sensitive vocal writer. Light and breezy instrumental passages evoking sunny Italian climes rub shoulders with moments of intense, often yearning longing for something past.
In the work’s final moments Maw’s post-romantic language – voice and flute snagging expressively against consonant harp chords – proves the perfect foil to Browning’s poem, which expresses the intangibility of human love, the ‘infinite passion and the pain of finite hearts that yearn’.
View the score of Maw’s Roman Canticle here