United Kingdom Mozart, Vaughan Williams, Schumann, Dohnányi: The Nash Ensemble [Ian Brown (piano), Richard Hosford (clarinet), Richard Watkins (horn), Stephanie Gonley (violin), Lawrence Power (viola), Adrian Brendel (cello)], Chipping Campden Music Festival, St James’ Church, Chipping Campden, 15.5.2014. (RJ)
Mozart: Trio for Clarinet, Viola and Piano (Kegelstatt)
Vaughan Williams: Quintet in D
Schumann: Märchenerzählungen for Viola, Horn and Clarinet, Op 132
Dohnányi: Sextet in C major for Clarinet, Horn, Violin, Viola, Cello and Piano
What a wonderful combination of instruments the clarinet, viola and piano are! Mozart’s Kegelstatt and Schumann’s Märchenerzählungen show them off to excellent advantage and St James’ Church on a balmy spring evening proved the ideal setting. Richard Hosford’s sinuous clarinet launched the first of the works with Lawrence Power’s sweet-toned viola and Ian Brown’s gentle piano playing taking over its role at a later stage. The minuet was nicely balanced with the viola adding a sombre touch, while in the finale the clarinet once more set the tone with a flowing melody and plenty of twists and turns along the way. The threesome came together again for a warm and often tender account of Märchenerzählungen, one of Schumann’s last compositions, but definitely not the work of a madman.
In other circumstances these performances might have been the highlights of the evening, but attention was focussed on two other works for larger combinations of instruments. Vaughan Williams’ Quintet dates from 1898 when he was still struggling to find a distinctive voice. Like Brahms he disowned (and often destroyed) his more youthful works, but listening to this performance one wondered why, because there was so much in the work that a young man could be proud of. His handling of the of instruments was exemplary and there was a wealth of invention in the work. True, the influence of Brahms was unmistakable – dense and vigorous piano playing, horn calls more reminiscent of Germanic forests than English landscapes – but there was plenty of humour as well. The Intermezzo was a whimsical waltz with interruptions and changes of tempo, while the dreamy Andantino was notable for its heart-rending violin passages from Stephanie Gonley. The racy Allegro molto finale was a riot of fun with synchopated rhythms and a few witty Mendelssohnian touches. Thank God this work did not end up on the scrapheap!
The Nash Ensemble’s final contribution to the Festival concert was Ernó Dohnányi’s Sextet, composed in 1935. The programme notes recall his many accomplishments as a pianist, conductor and teacher at the Budapest Academy of Music; he also promoted the work of Bartók and Kodály. One wonders why music of such quality and vigour is not better known, but presumably at the time it was dismissed as old-fashioned fare and compared unfavourably with the avant-garde works of Schoenberg, Berg and Bartók himself. Yet it is a flawless and enjoyable piece by a master orchestrator at the height of his powers. It begins dramatically with a dark mysterious horn theme until a lyrical viola melody dissipates the tension and generates calm. The Intermezzo begins with a soothing chorale but later the piano adopts a more martial tone – reflecting the growing tension in Europe in the Thirties, perhaps – but this eventually fades away. The Allegro con sentimento – a theme and variations introduced by the clarinet – was suitably varied, and was followed by a boisterous Finale with plenty of syncopation, puckish humour and zany dance forms, including a waltz. The normally very composed Nash Ensemble decided to let their hair down, with cellist Adrian Brendel grinning from ear to ear throughout, and the audience were borne along by the infectious rhythms. This elite ensemble never fails to impress with their musicianship, and tonight they exceeded everyone’s expectations by promoting two delightful rarities alongside established and much loved masterpieces.
The Chipping Campden Music Festival continues until May 24th with performances by Jonathan Biss, Christogher Maltman, the Fine Arts Quartet, Imogen Cooper, Steven Isserlis and Richard Egarr, and others. Details from www.campdenmusicfestival.co.uk.