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Brahms, Dvorak & Poulenc

Brahms Trio in E flat Op. 40; Poulenc Sextet for piano and winds; Dvorak String Quintet No.2 op.77

Violin Tadasuke Iijima 
Horn Sarah Maxwell 
Piano Frances Angell 
Piano Mikhail Shilyaev 
Flute Sarah Brennan 
Oboe Sophie Lusty 
Clarinet Colin Yi Tan 
Horn Roger Montgomery 
Bassoon Wai Yee lee bsn A. Violin Jan Peter Schmolck
 Violin Teresa Privratska 
Viola Stephanie Edmundson
 Cello Lauren Steel 
Double-bass Andrew Vickers

The Turner Ensemble in collaboration with Royal Academy of Music and Trinity College of Music London, and in partnership with the London Chamber Music Society

London Chamber Music Series; Kings Place London, 18 March 2012

This substantial and varied program attracted a good size appreciative audience. The distinguished performers from the Turner Ensemble led the chamber groups in a contrasting program of two popular and much loved late 19th century romantic chamber compositions framing a brilliant and witty masterpiece by Francis Poulenc, his Sextet for piano and winds. This jewel of the winds ensemble repertoire was the centre of the evening, not only in its place on the programme, but also in the sense of the performance quality.

The players, whilst visibly enjoying performing together, shone musically and technically. Impeccable ensemble playing, rhythmical clarity and the vivid contrasts in the textures and the moods, made our listening experience very satisfying.

The Brahms performance had many fine moments - the pianist Frances Angell of the Turner Ensemble leading, but never dominating her partners. Her subtle and masterful approach helped to bring out the lyricism and the depth of the sentiment of the work, dedicated to the memory of the composer’s mother. Violinist Tadasuke Iijima’s warm tone and sensitive phrasing brought the score to life from the very beginning, and was particularly suited to the expression of the composer’s personal grief in the slow movement; touching, but never sentimental. What could have been a special performance, though, was, unfortunately undermined by the frequent technical slips and generally uneven playing from the hornist; the latter’s part carries a significant musical message, and its timbre creates that very poignant ambience in the Third Movement. Marked by the composer as “mesto” – “sorrowful”, it is the heart of the work and a most memorable movement, of which the contemporary critic Selmar Bagge said In the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung in 1867: "This is truly lyrical Brahms!"

The second half of the concert consisted of Dvorak’s monumental String Quintet op.77. Composed 10 years later, in 1875, the quintet is remarkable in its lush, rich texture created by the complete string family, including the double bass. Liberated from sustaining the base line, the cello is given an important role and placed in the middle of the musical architecture. The cellist on this occasion was, however, at almost lost in the full sound of the group, but this loss fortunately compensated by the bass player Andrew Vickers’ enthusiastic and physically exuberant presence. Some intonation problems from the violins occasionally marred the performance, but the final movement brought the work and the whole of the concert to a rousing conclusion.

The event was described in the brochure as part of a project for students to “have the opportunity to collaborate and perform chamber music alongside a professional group, providing a valuable, new experience for the young performers”. Judging from this evening, their worthy goal was indeed achieved. The result of working together and presenting a challenging program in one of the Capital's best concert halls was a celebration of chamber music making, while learning and communicating creative ideas to each other and to the audience.

Alfia Bekova

See also: Bekova Sisters 2001