A Thoroughly Refreshing Evening with Ensemble 360

United KingdomUnited Kingdom J.S. Bach, Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann: Ensemble 360 [Benjamin Nabarro and Claudia Ajmone-Marsan (violins), Ruth Gibson (viola), Gemma Rosefield (cello), Sam Coles (flute), Adrian Wilson (oboe) and Tim Horton (piano)] Wigmore Hall, London, 11.11.2016. (LB)

J.S. Bach – Trio Sonata in C minor from The Musical Offering BWV 1079
Mendelssohn – Piano Trio No.1 in D minor Op.49
R. Schumann – Three Romances Op.94 (Nicht Schnell – Einfag, innig – Nicht Schnell); Piano Quintet in Eb major Op.44
C. Schumann – Two Romances from Op.22 (No.1 in Db major & No.2 in G minor)

Leipzig provided the unifying thread in this evening’s concert in a programme that opened with a Bach Trio Sonata, audaciously using a concert grand piano in the role of continuo, along with Gemma Rosefield’s eloquent bass lines.

Any misgivings about the use of a grand piano were instantly dispelled by Tim Horton’s lightness of touch and idiomatic sensitivity. Flautist Sam Coles and violinist Ben Nabarro rose magnificently to the contrapuntal challenge before them, alert to every rhythmic and harmonic twist and turn, deftly setting the stage for some even more expressive and virtuosic ensemble playing in the succeeding pieces.

This, the first in a mini-series of musical events presented over the weekend by Ensemble 360, proved to be stimulating and enjoyable for a number of reasons. It first of all confirmed, yet again, that ensembles explicitly dedicated to the art of chamber music performance invariably fare better artistically than celebrity outfits of disparate individuals, sporadically thrown together, a seemingly increasing trend nowadays. Their exhilarating performance of Mendelssohn’s First Piano Trio revealed an ensemble completely at ease with itself, fully in command of the challenges the music presented, and capable of spontaneous creative interaction.

Secondly, their programme eschewed the characteristically formulaic approach favoured nowadays, and as a result they were able to be far more adventurous, and to encompass a far wide variety of music. It is, for example, some time since I have heard an oboe recital or indeed seen one advertised, and how refreshing then to hear Andrew Wilson so persuasively perform Schumann’s three Romances for oboe, though interspersed with two Romances for violin and piano by Clara Schumann.  This juxtaposition of these works by Robert and Clara Schumann worked especially well, not just musically but also for inviting the audience to contemplate, more deeply, the historic milieu in which Robert and Clara pursued their creative partnership.

The third refreshing feature of this concert was that the musicians, in what probably conflicts with tacit Wigmore Hall protocols and convention, introduced the music they performed from the platform. It provided a sincere connection between the artists and their audience; in more than three decades of attending concerts at Wigmore, I have only ever heard the occasional encore introduced, never anything said about the music itself or about the artists’ motivations for performing it.

It is almost certainly the case that nothing of significance or beauty can be created without the willingness to take risks and Ensemble 360, in the spirit of their founder, Peter Cropper, proved willing to take such risks, reaping rich musical dividends along the way, and this proved to be the most critical respect in which their performance departed from the norm.

Now in its biggest formation of the evening, their performance of Schumann’s Piano Quintet, thought to be the first composition for this medium, was imbued with a palpable sense of adventure. The infectious hustle and bustle of the first movement was as effectively communicated as the solemnity of the second movement march, with its ‘Hungarian dance’ second trio breathless and rugged. The scherzo was truly brilliantly dispatched and the final movement appropriately imperious. The music was invested with a degree of commitment that exceeded the perfunctory, a real tour de force.

Leon Bosch

Leave a Comment