The Nash Ensemble’s series of concerts Around Schubert have reached a substantial midway point. The works of a number of great composers were included in a concert that was as studded with delicacies as a plum pudding on a cold December evening.
The opening Scottish folk song settings by Beethoven reflected popular domestic music-making in the first decades of the nineteenth century. Hundreds of these settings were commissioned by George Thomson, an Edinburgh civil servant with a passion for the folk tradition. Several settings by Carl Maria von Weber were included in the opening ‘Around Schubert’ concert in October. Roderick Williams made an appealing case for their performance, always charmingly compelling in tone and word. ‘The sweetest lad was Jamie’, a bitter sweet love lyric, showcased voice and piano, while ‘Waken, lords and ladies gay’ brought a dramatic contribution from Richard Watkins horn, describing an upbeat hunting scene. ‘The Sunset’, part of Beethoven’s Op.108 collection, was enriched by Adrian Brendel with cello embellishments and pizzicato punctuation.
Rossini’s First String Sonata, in a version for Wind Quartet, used all the paints in the paint box with witty conversational effects in the upper woodwind This lightened the mood in the hall considerably before the brooding selection from Schubert’s ‘Schwanengesang’. Six songs were performed by Roderick Williams with the accompaniment of nine musicians from the Nash Ensemble. The string quartet component brought fascinating parallels with Schubert’s chamber works and in many cases the additional instruments pointed up the detail of the emotion of each poem. Roderick Williams adjusted his delivery perfectly to balance with the instrumentalists, creating a bigger, more theatrical sound. ‘Der Atlas’ became even more outsize dramatically, ‘Am Meer’ was enhanced by eery flute. ‘Der Doppelgänger’ had a bigger canvas with horn and clarinet offering layers of menace. The only slight jar came from additional flute decoration in ‘Das Fischermädchen’, which removed any trace of irony from the meaning of the song.
The final piece, Schumann’s Piano Quintet, displayed the groups’s extraordinary ability to charge a phrase with colour and expression. This was music making of the highest order, highlights being the opening heroic theme and the gorgeous cello and viola dialogue between Adrian Brendel and Lawrence Power.