Chipping Campden Festival (3) -Two Quintets and a Trio

Mozart, Beethoven : Borodin Quartet with Michael Collins, St James’ Church, 13.5.2011

Beethoven, Rachmaninov : Benedetti Trio, St James’ Church, 16.5.2011  (RJ)

Never jump to conclusions. That is the lesson I have learned from this year’s Music Festival in Chipping Campden. Earlier in the Festival I took one look at the frail looking Charles Rosen and seriously doubted whether he was up to playing a gruelling recital of late Chopin. Needless to say he was …… and went on to bowl his audience over with his virtuosity and musicianship.

Later I braced myself for a recital by the Borodin Quartet whom I regard as the high priests of the Russian chamber music repertoire, notably the quartets of Shostakovich. However, on this occasion they discarded their Russian overcoats to play Mozart and Brahms, having enlisted the help of an extra musician for their performance – the genial Michael Collins. The recital opened with Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A, K581 written for the composer’s friend Anton Stadler. Unfortunately, the Borodin’s arrival had been delayed because of visa problems so they looked a trifle shell-shocked (or jet-lagged?) at first and played a trifle cautiously. But thanks to gentle coaxing from Michael Collins, who looked as fresh as a daisy and was on excellent form, they quickly thawed out and were playing as one by the magnificent Finale.

Brahms modelled his Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in B minor, Op 115 on the Mozart Quintet and hearing it directly after the Mozart was a revelation. By now all the musicians were running at full-steam and it was a wonderful experience to bask in the autumnal glow they gave to the music bringing out a details which I felt I was hearing for the first time – such as the playful manner in which the clarinet tosses the melody to the first violin, and the gradual re-emergence of the opening theme in the final variation of the fourth movement. Rich sonorities, a hint of nostalgia, elegant playing and charm – this was a performance that had everything one could wish for.

When I saw an appearance by the Benedetti Trio advertised in the Festival brochure, I wondered if young Nicola was bidding to fill the vacancy resulting from by the imminent dissolution of the Florestan Trio. But I was surprised (and disappointed) to find that the musicians were not going to play as a threesome until after the interval. Not that I am complaining. The first half was devoted to violin and cello sonatas by Beethoven: Nicola Benedetti’s performance of the Violin Sonata in C minor, Op 30 No 2 was well up to her usual standard, and Leonard Eschenbroich brought passion and spirituality to the Cello Sonata No 5 in D.

Both benefited greatly from the instinctive playing of the Ukrainian pianist Alexei Grynyuk, who came into his own in the Trio élégiaque No 2, Rachmaninov’s reaction to the untimely death of his idol and mentor Tchaikovsky. Aged 20 at the time,  the composer clearly had a tremendous facility for writing for the piano which did not quite extend to the violin and cello, and at times the work felt more like a piano sonata with extra parts added for good measure. But what a piece it turned out to be! – Russian soul music, par excellence, with heartrending outpourings of sorrow and despair in the opening movement. The elegiac slow movement with its variations was made all the more moving by Grynyuk’s understated playing for which he compensated in the finale. This last movement sounded more like a full scale concerto than chamber music and he played it as only a true virtuoso steeped in the music of Eastern Europe could. Eventually the passion died down to a muted close. The performance was greeted first with a respectful silence and then rapturous applause.

The Festival continues until Saturday 21st June with orchestral music and local talent – if this is the appropriate way to describe Paul Lewis and Julian Lloyd Webber who happen to live nearby. Chipping Campden folk should be glowing with pride at the enthusiastic reception being accorded to their excellent tenth music festival.

Roger Jones