United Kingdom Mozart, Saint-Saëns, Bizet, Poulenc: Nash Ensemble [Philippa Davies (flute), Gareth Hulse (oboe), Michael Wright (clarinet), Ursula Leveaux (bassoon), Richard Watkins (horn), Ian Brown (piano)], Chipping Campden International Music Festival, St James’ Church, Chipping Campden, 18.5.2016. (RJ)
Mozart: Piano Quintet in E flat K452
Saint-Saëns: Caprice sur des airs danois et russes
Bizet (arr. Iain Farrington): Jeux d’enfants arr. for piano and wind quintet
Poulenc: Sextet for piano and wind quintet
The Nash Ensemble are great favourites at Chipping Campden and once again attracted a large and appreciative audience. Most of the items on the menu were by French composers but their concert started off with a helping of champagne – Mozart’s Piano Quintet. The Ensemble’s long-serving pianist Ian Brown had the lion’s share of the work introducing many of the themes and encouraging the wind instuments to join in with great panache. The jaunty Allegro moderato was followed by a sweet-sounding Larghetto with a wonderful display of colour from the wind instruments, and a bright Rondo leading up to a joyous climax.
Saint-Saëns was a prolific composer, yet I doubt whether many of us on these islands can list more than a handful of his works. Tonight’s piece Caprice sur des airs danois et russes was certainly new to me. Dedicated to the Danish-born wife of Tsar Alexander III it has a suitably grand opening where the flute takes the lead in practising her scales and the other musicians join in. Indeed, Philippa Davies’ flute took the initiative in many instances with colourful support from the other wind instruments. Five different melodies were featured; the playful Poco Adagio contrasted with a wistful Moderato, and the musicians ended in high spirits with a scurrying Allegro Vivace.
Bizet’s Jeux d’enfants was composed as a piano duet, and initially I had qualms as to whether it ought to be modified ion any way. How can one improve on perfection? However, I was quickly won over by Iain Farrington’s imaginative arrangement of the opening March in which one could picture tin soldiers marching to the sound of a military band. The ensemble was reduced to flute, clarinet and piano for the Duo and Berceuse – the former (Petit mari, petite femme) epitomising wedded bliss through the eyes of a child and the latter played with the utmost delicacy depicting a doll – a china doll, I fancy. The popular Galop which ends the Suite was taken at some speed and erupted as a riot of colour. Later, as an encore the Nash were to play the lively scherzo Les Chevaux de Bois (not included in the Suite).
The most substantial work of the evening was Poulenc’s Sextet which incorporated many of the traits = wit, humour and urbanity – that we associate with this composer The first movement produced exciting music and all manner of odd noises – a sneeze? A train whistle? a car horn? The bustle was interrupted by Ursula Leveaux’ bassoon introducing a melancholy but heartfelt slow section in which the instruments eventually combined to produce an exquisite palette of colour before the merriment returned. The Divertissement was an expansive affair but what felt like a slow amble through the Bois de Boulogne unexpectedly picked up speed to become a jog. There was plenty of variety in the Presto finale which seemed to evoke the busy Parisian street-scape until at the end night fell and the noise died away.
Listening to the Nash Ensemble is like dining out at a good restaurant with old friends: you leave well nourished and perfectly satisfied.