It was billed as such an intriguing concept. O/MODƏRNT's Lament and Consolation: Fourths Up and Down, curated and directed by Hugo Ticciati, was the first of several innovative concerts over the weekend by the group and friends, all attempting to explore the relationship between old and new via astute historical observations and musical collisions. Sunday’s concerts would focus on the chaconne and music based on the fairest isle – Britannia herself – but this offering was programmed as more nuanced. Conceptually, a real treat: in practice, the skill of these fine musicians was in danger of being lost as they attempted to recover from their opening gimmickry.

Hugo Ticciati © Marco Borggreve
Hugo Ticciati
© Marco Borggreve

The ground bass' sagging, lamenting descent in Dido’s final aria of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas is a mimic of Monteverdi’s Lament of the Nymph. Its descending tetrachord, made up of four consecutive notes of a minor scale down from tonic to dominant, was embellished by Purcell, who added the sequential semitones to create the passus duriusculus, the hard step, and the phrase that has become so evocative to us today of mourning was born. 

O/MODƏRNT acknowledge in their programme notes Purcell’s insistence that text trumps music, so their decision to parade the musicians in, some singing drones Stimmung-stye, others plucking and playing open strings (a pert reminder of the string instruments’ natural fourths to be sure, but poorly timed) down the aisle felt even more bizarre. Any attempt at a seamless arrival on stage was thwarted by its size: the stage is far too small to comfortably fit all the players in without awkwardness if arriving in haphazard style, and instead of a climax, their arrival was clunky and effortful. 

Perhaps in a different setting – one less intimate than Wigmore Hall, or perhaps even one more so – this charade would have worked. But it felt gimmicky, wasted, and when the mezzo-soprano Luciana Mancini eventually made herself heard through the cacophony of different genres, sounds, rhythms and beats on stage, the pure beauty of that descending fourth contrasted with Dido’s lament was lost and neither she nor the musicians, when they eventually played Purcell’s scoring, were able to bring it back.

It was a rocky start to a mixed first half: Rameau’s L’enharmonique from Nouvelles suites de pièces de clavecin was beautifully poised, seamlessly continued from Dido’s lament to sound almost like an exposition or improvisation. Natacha Kudritskaya’s style is introspective, intense: a welcome relief from the preceding pantomime. Purcell’s Staircase Overture was taken at quite a lick but was well-controlled, if not sensational. 

You cannot begrudge Mancini’s use of the text for Monteverdi’s long Lamento d’Arianna, but she seemed to suffer from nerves and tripped over several of the most delicate lines. Her voice, a slightly covered sound, couldn’t match the intensity of Christoph Sommer’s theorbo, but the ensemble did achieve moments of real emotion: Mancini’s arresting Dove, dove è la fede, Che tanto mi giuravi was followed by passionate questioning that hit the mark, ending the first half on more stable ground than it started.

Far better things were to come. The music and indeed the playing after the interval could have belonged to a different concert. Berg’s Op.1 Piano Sonata opens with an augmented fourth – musica diabolus – which under Kudritskaya’s fingers ached wonderfully to be resolved. Her lack of drama in performance suited such a dramatic work: the music, for the first time in this concert, could speak for itself.

The real gem was left until last. Strauss’ Metamorphosen, devilishly tricky, was effortlessly crafted by Ticciati, the director and violinist, and his team: the beautiful viola solo was caressed down to the cello before being passed up again, while each section played and interacted with a wonderfully muted sound. This was music, one felt, that was played for and between themselves – a collective grief, a communal consolation. 

Ticciati, clearly able and earnest, had some wonderful things to say about the nature of the descending and the rising fourth. The programme, put together so carefully and with such thought, just about managed not to be thrown off course by its initial melodramatics. As O/MODƏRNT’s sublime Metamophosen demonstrated, less is often more.