Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Ensemble 360 continues the wonderfully democratic approach to music making pioneered by the late Peter Cropper with the Lindsay Quartet at Sheffield’s Crucible Studio. When Cropper and the Lindsays gave up Music in the Round, Ensemble 360 took it on and has now established a further outpost at CAST in Doncaster. The Second Space at CAST can be converted to an in-the-round configuration, giving the sense of intimate music making that is one of the key ingredients of the Ensemble 360 approach, along with informality of dress and presentation – and actually talking to the audience.
Most of the events of the Brilliant Beethoven festival at CAST fell on Saturday, with everything from concerts to film, scratch choir and “fun music-inspired crafts”. All that was left for Sunday were two short lunch-time concerts, both excellent, of the chamber music of Beethoven and his older contemporaries, Mozart and Haydn. The titles of the concerts, Passion and Patronage, didn’t really reflect any difference in tone between the concerts, but related to the major work of each: the Kreutzer Sonata which is certainly passionate and the second Rasumovsky Quartet which was dedicated to a patron, Prince Rasumovsky, but, as it happens, is pretty passionate, too.
Ensemble 360, in full force, is 11-strong, but for Passion and Patronage omitted the woodwind, leaving five strings, piano and horn to be deployed in various combinations. Each of the two concerts began with two relatively light-hearted works, in the case of Passion both fairly obscure. Ruth Gibson (viola) and Laurene Durantel (double bass) frisked through the Allegro of Beethoven’s lively Eyeglass Duo, so-called, apparently, because it was written for him to play with a short-sighted friend. The gentle mischief was followed by a divertimento by a composer who knew more about musical mischief than most, Haydn. Naomi Atherton took in her stride the virtuoso horn part, bubbling acrobatically over a huge range of nearly four octaves, its phrases echoed by rhythmically insistent violin (Benjamin Nabarro) and cello (Gemma Rosefield).
The mood changed abruptly with the wild opening movement of the Kreutzer Sonata, Nabarro joined by Tim Horton on piano in a performance of great intensity – then on to the elegance of the slow movement and an uninhibited assault on the final Presto, with the proximity of the performers ratcheting up levels of excitement.
In Patronage, it was fascinating to compare Mozart’s String Quartet K157 (Claudia Ajmone-Marsan on second violin) with Beethoven’s Opus 59, Number 2. Mozart’s delightful early work, with its lovely lyrical cello and dancing third movement, came in at less than a third the length of the Beethoven, one movement fewer and none of the emotional power and density of musical argument – evidence of the transformation of the string quartet during the careers of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven.
Between Mozart and Beethoven, we had a mix of the two: Beethoven’s relaxed Variations on Bei Mannern, Pamina and Papageno’s duet from The Magic Flute, played by piano and double bass. Written for cello and piano, the variations would possibly have benefitted from a greater lightness, despite Durantel’s admirably agile playing.
Reviewed on 2 October2016 | Image: Benjamin Ealovega