Concert in D for Piano, Violin and String Quartet, Op.21
String Sextet No.2 in G, Op.36
Aronowitz Ensemble [Magnus Johnston & Nadia Wijzenbeek (violins), Lily Francis & Tom Hankey (violas), Guy Johnston & Marie Macleod (cellos) and Tom Poster (piano)]
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 8 November, 2010
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Large-scale chamber works from the latter nineteenth-century offer any number of intriguing and worthwhile juxtapositions, and this recital by the Aronowitz Ensemble brought together two very different though equally impressive pieces by composers at the height of their respective powers.
Although not the rarity that it once was, Chausson’s Concert (1891) remains sui generis not only in its combining of violin and piano with string quartet, but also in the way the violin’s constant pivoting between solo, duo and ensemble roles defines much of what this work is about. Its initial ‘motto’ idea forcefully stated, the Aronowitz musicians had the measure of the first movement’s alternating passion and yearning – not least in the stormy expression and dense textures at the height of the development then the decisive if fateful coda, while the intermezzo that follows made much of the pathos that is extracted from the themes as they unfold over the underlying Sicilliano rhythm. The slow movement centres on an eloquent theme entrusted to solo violin (and eloquent, indeed, was Nadia Wijzenbeek’s rendering of it), and if the finale strives a little wantonly to tie-up thematic loose-ends on the way to a heady reprise of the first movement’s main theme as its apotheosis, the manner in which tonal resolution emerges from the chromatic volatility of the harmony is impressively secured. Does any comparable work have so orchestral an impact while remaining intrinsically chamber-like in scoring?
For all its solidity and expansiveness of construction, Chausson’s Concert is yet decisively removed from the Austro-German lineage of chamber composition. Such details, moreover, as finale’s the lead-in to the reprise being shadowed by an upwards glissando over the extent of the piano would most likely have caused Brahms, above all, not a little displeasure. That said, his Second String Sextet (1865) is one of his most inviting chamber works, with little of the rapid mood-swings as often inform those that came before it and none of the terseness or brusqueness of manner found in those that followed.
Once again, the Aronowitz musicians hardly put a collective wrong in the lengthy first movement (its exposition repeat rightly observed), ensuring a seamless follow-through between the hesitant opening theme and its warmly consoling successor. Nor was the intricate development lacking in motivation or the coda in equivocal poise. The scherzo that follows found the right balance between the guarded expression of its outer sections and robustness of a trio – whose Furiant-informed rhythm could only have been an inspiration to Brahms – that returns almost dismissively at the close. The five variations of the slow movement made a cohesive overall sequence, though the Aronowitz players were right to lay especial emphasis on the culminating Adagio that affords the work’s greatest repose, while the finale again brought productive interplay between the scurrying first theme and its suave successor. Even more than his earlier such piece, Brahms is mindful to ally the music’s often intensive motivic elaboration to a weight and sonorous tone that is the string sextet medium’s most distinctive asset – not least the approach to a coda whose resolution, if not in doubt, is held back until the very closing bars.
A fine pairing, then, of two works which, whatever their aesthetic differences, could hardly be more complementary in scope and duration. Tom Poster’s arrangement of Richard Strauss’s song “Morgen!” made an appealing encore, as well as enabling all the evening’s seven musicians to share the platform.