Committed Playing from Young Musicians on Rain-Drenched Exmoor

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Dvorák, Beethoven: The Two Moors Festival Ensemble [Chihiro Ono (violin), Arnaud Ghillebaert (viola), Ben Birtle (cello), David Stark (double bass), Max Welford (clarinet), Sinead Frost (bassoon), Francesca Moore-Bridger (horn)], St George’s Church, Dunster, Somerset, 12.10.2012 (AB)

Dvorak: String Quintet in G major, Opus 77
Beethoven: Septet in E flat major, Opus 20

My Two Moors Festival visit was to one moor – Exmoor – and the picture postcard village of Dunster, nestling below the steep Hills and the coast at Minehead, where a group of young professional musicians got together to play Dvorak and Beethoven in front the magnificent carved oak rood screen in this historic parish church.

I would guess that my “one moor” experience was similar to that of many other audience members, who drove to the concert venue over high hills and down into steep, dark wooded valleys, where the previous two day’s rain was still cascading down the hills in fast flowing rivulets and forming floods at the bottom of the valleys! It was a tribute to all the intrepid concert goers that the church was full!

This “umbrella group” of young professional musicians from several countries got together to play the fairly lengthy String Quintet by Dvorak and the “fuoco” began to flame after a few minutes as the players settled in and caught the full attention of the audience. Vivaciousness was embued in the dance-like scherzo with its bold chords and more assertive character, giving way to the more lyrical “poco andante. The chugging base line, increased tension and purpose in this movement with the violin soaring above and some pizzicato adding even more variety of tone and texture.

This work was played with enthusiasm, musicality and a good forward-going impetus, but was marred slightly, for me, by the rather strident and slightly harsh tone of the violin, which also had slight intonation lapses. Was this something to do with the instrument itself and/or the acoustic of the church ? I don’t have the answer.

The second half of the concert comprised the more lengthy better-known Beethoven Septet in which the wind players joined their string playing colleagues

The players launched the work in bold style with the wind instruments adding welcome variety and sounding very good indeed in this lovely old church, the sound projecting well to the rear (where I was sitting) without in any way drowning the strings. The Adagio with its sweeping phrases and the exposed clarinet melodies was beautifully played, as was the well-known theme and variations which followed.

This substantial and gripping work received a committed and interesting interpretation from these young musicians, who played with verve, musicianship and vitality. The wind players added character, timbre and style to the piece, but, at the same time, blending with the ensemble. Sad to say, the violin still sounded less than ideal.

Angela Boyd