Radiant Music in a Cold Climate

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Elgar, Burtch, Mozart, Schubert: James Ralph (bassoon), Mark Kane (horn), Ensemble Eos / Fraser Goulding (conductor), St Paul’s Church, Sketty, Swansea, 23.3.2013. (NR)

Elgar:Serenade for Strings, op. 20
Mervyn Burtch: Bassoon Concerto (2005)
Mozart: Horn Concerto in D major, K.412/514
Schubert: Symphony no. 5 in B flat major, D.485


Crwth, run by the indefatigable Peter Morgan, have been organising chamber concerts in the Swansea area for nearly fifteen years, using small, mainly church venues, offering music ranging from the Renaissance to contemporary Welsh composers, and helping to satisfy the local appetite for live performance during the increasingly dismal winter months. They must have assumed that by March 23rd it would be fully Spring, having arranged so high-spirited and radiant a programme as this, but at least the scarved and gloved audience were thoroughly warmed on the inside if not the out. The excellent Ensemble Eos (not to be confused with outfits of the same name in California and Berlin) managed to bring their full complement through the mid-Wales snow and ice to play as a 20-strong chamber orchestra, and to play with evident and winning enjoyment a series of works in which sunniness prevailed almost exclusively.

Elgar’s Serenade for Strings, with its sense of things stirring and budding and then dreaming of where they might go, set the tone for playing both crisp and delicate.

James Ralph then gave the premiere of the Bassoon Concerto by the prolific Welsh composer Mervyn Burtch. It was a rare and welcome opportunity to hear some of his music, and it was good to see the composer himself in the audience at the age of 83. The concerto, resulting from a request by Peter Morgan, is a likeable, inventive piece, setting instrument against or with orchestra by turns, good-humoured but nonetheless arresting, with the slow movement producing a rather more agitated, even haunted atmosphere, as high phrases in the violins take over from the cautious steps of the double bass. The finale brought things straight back to earth with much rustic virtuosic bassoonery

This a mood was followed up by Mozart’s First (actually last) Horn Concerto, – two movements of charm and freshness played sensitively and without fuss by Mark Kane. I liked the way the two soloists emerged from the ensemble and then blended back in again once they were done; it enhanced the relaxed air with which Fraser Goulding handled his forces.

In his Fifth Symphony the nineteen-year-old Schubert is at his most Mozartian, but there is always an unexpected harmonic swerve or colour; even the famous opening tune, a jaunty stroll along a riverbank, suddenly hits some momentarily disturbing obstacles. The slow movement has spaciousness and drama, the finale sounds both nostalgic and keen to carry on wandering. I wondered whether so small an orchestra would be able to put enough weight behind the music, but it did, just two cellos, a bass, two bassoons and two horns providing a really secure undercarriage, and having only a single flautist somehow made that instrument’s wonderful melting lines more rather than less prominent. The work was thoroughly enjoyable and expertly performed.

Neil Reeves