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An evocative, fine-tuned performance

The opening work, the Morceau de concert for horn and piano, was chiefly a way of spotlighting Ensemble 360’s wonderful horn-player, Naomi Atherton, in tandem with its infinitely adaptable pianist Tim Horton – and how typical of this collegial festival that in her pre-performance speech, Atherton hymned the next instrumentalist, Ursula Leveaux, for having inspired her in showing how much you could stand out within an orchestra during their time in the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. But Leveaux’s work, the Bassoon Sonata, triggered a voyage of discovery, an epiphany of Saint-Saëns’s compressed, light-of-touch but somehow deeply serious late style…

The abundant japes in The Carnival of the Animals – still a chamber work in its original version – certainly worked; I’ve never chuckled more at the Elephant playing a Berlioz sylph and Mendelssohn’s Puck than in the hands of double-bassist Philip Nelson… But what mesmerised here were the almost supernatural beauties, starting with of all things the Offenbach can-canning Tortoises – kept at an oddly energised pianissimo from the unison strings along with pianists Horton and (a surprise to see her name on the leaflet) Ivana Gavrić.

The keyboard mysteries were magically done, too, even pulling focus from clarinettist Robert Plane’s cuckoo in the wood – well, maybe not his upside-down joke before vanishing – until of course we got to the disastrous piano exercises of No. 11.

“Gemma Rosefield’s Swan brought tears to the eyes by its very restraint: no mawkishness here, only the exquisite handling of the score’s 11 o’clock number.”

That the performance as a whole could be so moving begs the question of why the composer wanted the work suppressed in his lifetime…

“I’d have given much to hear Plane in the third of the late sonatas, but he had extended limelight of a different sort, holding the golden thread through the slow-fast labyrinth of Adès’s Alchymia…An evocative, fine-tuned performance…”

In an epic programme, the miniature mastery of Ravel’s simply perfect Berceuse sur le nom de Fauré and Messager’s graceful, unpredictable Solo de concours for clarinet and piano held focus. But Franck’s winged beast of a Piano Quintet was the thing: a vehicle for the highest feats of virtuosity, exhausting simply to listen to, from Horton, and tireless strength from the strings (violinists Benjamin Nabarro, Claudia Ajmone Marsan, viola player Rachel Roberts and cellist Rosefield)…

… Duval and Isserlis began the Friday lunchtime recital with Enescu’s Second Violin Sonata…

Duval can unleash a focused ferocity and a far-seeing wisdom well beyond her years.

Maybe the short early Fauré Violin Concerto in a version with piano rather than orchestra was bound to feel conventional after that, but Duval and Horton held their heads high throughout. And the real reason for hearing it was the theme the master returned to in his final work, the String Quartet which soars and beats against heaven’s gates again and again, the undiminished rapture of the increasingly deaf and terminally ill octogenarian composer

“realised with unstinting generosity of spirit by Duval, Ajmone Marsan, Roberts and Rosefield. What a way to leave the Crucible and head for the afternoon train back to London, treading air.”

Photo: Matthew Johnson, The Arts Desk, Music in the Round

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