Young Musicians Tantalise the Ear with Familiar Masterpieces and Little Known Treasures

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Young Artists’ Platform: Pelléas Ensemble (Henry Roberts [flute], Luba Tunnicliffe [viola], Oliver Wass [harp]), Hannah Morgan (oboe), Daniel King Smith (piano), Wigmore Hall, London, 21.11.2016. (CS)

Théodore DuboisTerzettino
Jean-Philippe Rameau Pièces de clavecin en Concerts: ‘Deuxième Concert’
Benjamin Britten – Suite for harp in C major Op.83
Francis Poulenc – Sonata for oboe and piano
Gilles Silvestrini Six Études for oboe: No.1 ‘Hôtel des Roches noires à Trouville’ (Claude Monet, 1870); No.5 ‘Scène de Plage – Ciel d’orage’ (Eugène Boudin, 1864)
Georg Phillipp Telemann – Fantasie for flute No.7 in D major TWV40:8
Three songs transcribed for oboe and piano: Clara Schumann – ‘Die gute Nacht, die ich dir sage’; Ralph Vaughan Williams – ‘Orpheus with his Lute’; Franz Schubert – ‘Nacht und Träume’ D827
Jean-Michel DamaseRhapsodie for oboe and piano
Misha Mullov-AbbadoThree Meditation Songs for flute, viola and harp (London première)
Maurice Ravel – Sonatine (arr. Carlos Salzedo for flute, viola and harp)

Founded in 1983 by Callum Ross, the Young Artists’ Platform supports a small number of musicians, selected by audition, and provides them with concert platforms around the UK, thereby introducing burgeoning talent to a wider audience. In addition to The Tillett Trust, the founding sponsor, the YAP is supported by the Milton Grundy Foundation and is now part of the Monday Platform series at London’s Wigmore Hall.

This recital brought together some of the 2016 YAP prize winners: the Pelléas Ensemble – flautist Henry Roberts, viola player Luba Tunnicliffe and harpist Oliver Wass – which formed at the GSMD in 2011, and oboist Hannah Morgan, who was accompanied by pianist Daniel King Smith. The young artists presented an interesting and varied programme which placed acknowledged masterpieces alongside little-known treasures and some intriguing new works.

When Théodore Dubois composed his Terzettino for flute, viola and harp in 1905, it was the first piece that had been written for this ensemble of instruments. Dubois won the Prix de Rome in 1861; subsequently he succeeded Camille Saint-Saëns as organist at the Church of the Madeleine, and he also taught at the Paris Conservatory, where one of his pupils was Paul Dukas. The Terzettino is a luminous work, which here was driven by the guiding force of Wass’s strong, almost voluptuous, bass line and the propelling energy of the harp’s rippling right-hand chords. Tunnicliffe had to work hard to project through the sumptuous texture, but the viola’s dialogue with the flute was smoothly melodious and Roberts’ upper register added a piercing gleam.

The Pelléas Ensemble expertly captured the contrasting moods of the three movements of Rameau’s ‘Deuxième Concert’ from the Pièces de clavecin en Concerts 1741. It was originally composed for harpsichord with flute and either violin or viola da gamba, but it translated perfectly and the three performers achieved a satisfying balance and interplay of voices in ‘La Laborde’, the fluid triplets and skipping quavers establishing a grace which was enriched with a sense of drama at the cadential points. In ‘La Boucon’, Wass’s elaborations coloured the chromatic nuances in the viola and flute lines, the taut dotted rhythms and finely etched decorations of which created a tense melancholy. The concluding ‘L’agaçante’ was a mischievously light-spirited and mercurial gallop.

Wass’s performance of Britten’s Suite for Harp Op.83, written for Welsh harpist Osian Ellis in 1969, was remarkable for both the range of timbres and the warmth of the tone that Wass conjured. Throughout the five movements there was tremendous dynamism between the left and right hands. The vigour of the opening of the Overture was striking, but countered subsequently by whispered undercurrents. The Toccata was infinitely restless. But, if the dazzling hand-crossing of that movement was designed to showcase the performer’s technique, the virtuosity is not of a superficial kind, as Wass made clear in the Nocturne, the quasi-somnambulant meanderings of which reminded one of Britten’s preoccupation with night, dreams and sleep. The chordal ground resonated darkly beneath reflective elaborations, as the tessitura widened eerily. Wass’s articulation of the individual voices in the brief Fugue which followed was incisive and crystalline, and he built the complex, asymmetrical patterns into a mesmerising rhythmic force. The concluding Hymn had great oracular power, and wended its way through the harmonic pathways of the five variants on the Welsh hymn ‘St. Denio’, acquiring an almost ecstatic air.

In the second half of the concert the Pelléas Ensemble presented both fresh and familiar fare. Misha Mullov-Abbado’s Three Mediation Songs are, in the composer’s words, ‘inspired by various personal experiences involving group meditation and music in nature’. Despite a distinguished classical lineage – he is the son of violinist Viktoria Mullova and the late Claudio Abbado – Mullov-Abbado has pursued a career in jazz; he is bass player, composer and arranger and was winner of the 2014 Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize. A jazz influence was evident in the organic development of the flute melody, over viola double-stops, at the start of ‘Watercolour’ – a movement that Mullov-Abbado suggests is about ‘calmness and bright, warm colours’. The strongly defined bass line and repetitive harp figures injected vitality – I was put in mind of the folky animation of Michael Nyman’s music for the film, The Piano – while Tunnicliffe’s subsequent legato melody was projected with powerful weight and tone. ‘Clear Green Sky’ was more speculative initially: the viola’s held notes supported exploratory harp gestures, and there was a sense of unrest – the composer describes the movement concerns as being ‘stillness, the cold and anxiety, with an element of insanity’. The central episode was indeed characterised by a tense, fretful interchange between the voices, but a later flowering of melody and the sweet soaring of the flute line quelled the turbulence. The final movement ‘Little Fire Drum’ had a piquant exuberance reminiscent of the Milhaud of Le boeuf sur le toit.

The repertoire for flute, viola and harp is slender and to conclude the concert the Pelléas Ensemble offered a well-known transcription: Carlos Salzedo’s arrangement of Ravel’s familiar Sonatine for piano, which the harpist made with Ravel’s approval. This performance emphasised the joyful euphony of Ravel’s music; playing with captivating vitality, the Pelléas swept through the varied palettes, undulated through the dynamic extremes, and explored the phrases with freedom, capturing the innate elegance. The second movement, Mouvement de menuet, was especially poised, taken at just the right tempo – not too fast, but with a sense of flowing grace. Wass’s lightning-quick pedalling was stunning. The Pelléas raced through the wild figurations and fickle time-signatures of the concluding movement, Animé¸ with deceptive effortlessness and delicacy.

Hannah Morgan and Daniel King Smith also presented a diverse programme of old and new. To begin a sonata at the extreme top of the instrument’s range, and unaccompanied, must be disconcerting for an oboist, but Morgan confidently and pristinely intoned the high D which opens the Élégie (Paisiblement) of Poulenc’s Oboe Sonata of 1962, the composer’s final work. She used a subtle vibrato in this movement to make the tone bloom and the richness of sound was enhanced by the piano’s pulsing accompaniment. Morgan brought theatrical presence and intensity to the movement’s angrier outbursts, but the more subdued passages were sweet and soft of timbre. The clarity of King Smith’s perpetuum mobile in the Scherzo (Très animé) was arresting, with irregular and unanticipated accents puncturing the torrent. The allusion to the slow theme from the last movement of Prokofiev’s D minor Sonata for Flute was expressively phrased, with nuanced ‘blue notes’. In the final Déploration (Très calme) Morgan’s lower register assumed the darkness of a cor anglais, a haunting voice about the piano’s sustained chords.

Two movements from Gilles Silvestrini’s Six Études for oboe followed. These studies are inspired by impressionist paintings, and the two included here depict scenes of Trouville, a resort in Normandy once fashionable among Second Empire Parisians. No.1 of the set, ‘Hôtel des Roches noires à Trouville’ portrays the busy promenade, with idiosyncratic piano gestures suggesting a splash of wave and gust of air; the piano retreats in intermittent moments of repose. Ceaseless circular patterns characterised the ‘Scène de Plage’, with Morgan displaying stunningly nimble, even finger-work and superb breath control.

Morgan commenced the second half of the concert with Telemann’s elegant Fantasie No.7 in D major, an Overture alla francese in four sections (Largo-Allegro-Largo-Presto) originally composed for the flute. Morgan leapt lightly and cleanly across registers in the opening movement and the dotted rhythms possessed galant poise. Impressively controlled dynamic contrasts were a feature of the closing Allegro, while the middle Largo was notable for the rich, glowing tone of the oboe’s lower register.

The three song arrangements which followed were beautifully played but I pondered the wisdom of rejecting works from the oboe repertoire in favour of compositions whose expressive power derives at least in part from the relationship of music and words. That said, there was a beguiling fluidity to Clara Schumann’s ‘Die gute Nacht, die ich dir sage’, and King Smith’s piano was an equal partner, engaging sensitively with the melodic line. In Vaughan Williams’s ‘Orpheus with the Lute’ the piano sang with nostalgic eloquence, but avoided whimsy, while Schubert’s ‘Nacht und Träume’ revealed the pianist to have an innate appreciation of lieder’s expressive mode. Although Morgan could not quite capture the range and nuance that a singer, exploiting the words, might achieve, the oboist played with a thoughtful sense of line and used the dynamics expressively.

Jean-Michel Damase’s Rhapsodie for oboe and piano is an arrangement of the orchestral work of the same name which Damase composed in 1948. Morgan and King Smith relished the work’s impulsive and unpredictable mood swings: there was a hint of Prokofiev’s rhythmic bite in the vibrant central section but this was balanced by a moody dreaminess and a relaxed suavity elsewhere.

This was a thoughtfully constructed programme which offered some revelations and tantalised the ear with an infinite array of exquisite colours.

Claire Seymour

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