April is the cruellest month, but May is shaping up quite pleasantly and the daylight streamed in through the east window of St Martin-in-the-Fields at the start of I Fagiolini’s latest concept-concert, Re-Wilding The Waste Land. The centenary of Eliot’s poem is the obvious hook. But whether you’re counting from the Rite of Spring riot in 1913, Schoenberg’s Skandalkonzert the same year, or further back to Strauss’s Salome or Debussy’s Faune, music’s modernist moment occurred some time earlier. Which is helpful, in a way, because it freed the group’s director Robert Hollingworth from the limitations of chronological programming and gave him scope to do something a bit more interesting, and possibly a bit more Eliot-esque.
So the programme – all of it for an a capella line-up of seven or fewer singers – had one foot in the 16th century and another in the 21st, with a couple of brief nods to the 20th. Vaughan Williams’s Silence and Music sounded like sirens in the mist, and Kenneth Leighton’s God’s Grandeur brushed Gerard Manley Hopkins into the mix to play off Eliot’s own contrapuntal chorus of allusions and verbal registers. Tamsin Greig read, or, to put it more accurately, performed passages of The Waste Land between the musical numbers (she do the police in different voices), and we were asked not to applaud until the very end. The idea of creating a seamless 70-minute meditation on the poem’s themes worked well in the atmosphere of the slowly darkening church, and would have worked better if Hollingworth hadn’t intervened with donnish, well-intentioned introductions to the individual sections.
But the central concept was strong, using Eliot as the pivot point between the sombre ecstasies of Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories and a series of new commissions by Joanna Marsh (bright, sometimes skittish settings of Pattiann Rogers and John F.