The Nash Ensemble Sparkle in Spohr and Mendelssohn

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Spohr, Mendelssohn: Nash Ensemble. Wigmore Hall, London, 10.3.2019. (CC)

Spohr  – Nonet in F Op.31
Mendelssohn – Piano Trio No.2 in C minor Op.66

The Nash Ensemble’s recording of Spohr’s Octet and Nonet on a CRD gatefold LP was part of my teenage listening (see Glyn Pursglove’s Musicweb International review of the compact disc reissue here). How wonderful it was to hear this very group in the Nonet (different players of course) coupled with some miraculous Mendelssohn as part of the Nash Ensemble’s ‘German Romantics’ series at Wigmore Hall in its 2018/19 season.

Spohr’s music is ever congenial and, in a performance such as this, fresh. Stephanie Gonley’s warm-toned violin began the first movement, which blossomed into perfect Sunday morning music. The pairing of Gonley with violist Lawrence Power worked particularly well as Spohr offers the two instruments their own moments in the spotlight. Wind solos were remarkable, perhaps most notably from Ursula Leveaux on bassoon and Richard Hosford on clarinet. The Nonet places the Scherzo second, a restrained, veiled thing at first, not an atmosphere destined to last. And indeed, upward scales act like a cleansing agent so that the woodwind can pipe happily. Stephanie Gonley’s virtuosity was again showcased in the Trio, with its delicious hints of Ländler. The slow movement, an Adagio, finds Spohr writing first for strings then for wind, pitting them against each other like two different organ stops; both panels were exquisitely balanced. Subsequent flute and clarinet exchanges were glorious; watching the players and their sense of rapt communication along with their frequent glances at each other underlined the sense of deep chamber music here. Of particular note was Gareth Hulse’s golden-toned oboe. The finale finds Spohr happily playing with a simple idea (an ascending scale) whose gold lies in the arabesque ‘tail’ of the motif. Wit surfaced again here with the string/wind alternation later in the movement where before there had been only strings and silence. The players clearly had fun; so did we.

A quick, and well-managed, stage rearrangement (and a well-deserved smattering of applause for the Wigmore Hall staff) and Ian Brown, long-standing member of the Nash, entered along with Gonley and Adrian Brendel for Mendelssohn’s wonderful C minor Piano Trio. The opening, beautifully veiled but with very clear articulation from the strings, introduced Brown’s low-pedal approach, which paid off handsomely. A lovely moment too that cannot be rehearsed: just as Adrian Brendel embarked on a radiant cello melody, so the sun came out and parts of the hall were illuminated wondrously. The slow movement (second this time) began on piano like a reflective Lied ohne Worte, the violin and cello taking over the theme with the musical equivalent of a dignified bow to the pianist. Gonley’s and Brendel’s sounds meshed beautifully. It was left to the Scherzo to reinject momentum, and so it did with scamperings that properly mirrored the quasi presto part of the movement’s tempo indicator. Lots of the Mendelssohn of Midsummer Night’s Dream here (the incidental music to which was written a mere three years earlier). The finale was imbued the lilt of dance, but the close held much power. A superb performance; a superb concert.

Colin Clarke

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