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Very precise touch … a masterly performance

The Arts Desk, David Nice

Any chamber music festival that kicks off with Czech genius Martinů’s Parisian jeu d’esprit ballet-sextet La revue de cuisine and ends its first concert with Saint-Saëns’s glory of a Septet for trumpet, piano and strings is likely to be a winner. This one was. It transpires that this year’s curator Kathryn Stott is not only a remarkable pianist but also an inspired programmer, bringing to the 10 players of Ensemble 360, core of the fabulously enterprising Music in the Round, an unfamiliar repertoire and special guests with whom they made sparks fly.

Here our pianists shone, thanks to the fascination of their roles. Tim Horton, Ensemble 360 member and another of those underrated artists as good as most you find in the spotlight, set us up for the waywardness of Martinů’s tale about a saucepan in love with its lid, even coming on with (aptly) a Le Creuset ensemble to tell us a bit about the plot before establishing a very precise touch and a stomach-flip-inducing descent which marks out the Moravian master’s total originality. And Stott effortlessly despatched the virtuoso flourishes which Saint-Saëns, experienced in five concertos for the instrument and no mean pianist himself, lets fly from the ensemble. Both these little masterpieces are proof that with an individual sense of melody and true musical fun the lighter end of the musical scale has claim to our full attention. Stott and Horton also lilted with perfectly consonant rubato at one piano in two of Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances.

Stott’s carefully-planned turning point came in Beethoven’s C sharp minor Sonata, which Horton told us wasn’t really the “Moonlight” at all before launching into a masterly performance with a startlingly fast (it is Presto agitato, after all) but still perfectly articulated finale.

The reason for its placement was that Shostakovich quotes or adapts fragments from the famous first movement in the last music he ever composed, the Viola Sonata of 1975. Ensemble 360’s superb viola player, Rachel Roberts, gave a true collaboration with Horton which went deep and meditative, as it must, in the final Adagio.

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