Quintet in E flat for Piano and Wind, Op.16
Mahler, arr. David Matthews
Alice Coote (mezzo-soprano)
Nash Ensemble [Ian Brown (piano), Stephanie Gonley & Laura Samuel (violins), Philip Dukes (viola), Paul Watkins (cello), Duncan McTier (double bass), Philippa Davies (flute), Gareth Hulse (oboe, oboe d’amore & cor anglais), Richard Hosford & Marie Lloyd (clarinets), Ursula Leveaux (bassoon), Richard Watkins (horn), Lucy Wakeford (harp) and Chris Brannick (percussion)]
Martyn Brabbins [conductor; Mahler]
Reviewed by: Tully Potter
Reviewed: 14 January, 2012
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Sometimes the very opening bars of a concert tell you it’s going to be a good evening. As the wonderful Ian Brown matched his first notes precisely with the Nash wind-players – Gareth Hulse, Richard Hosford, Richard Watkins and Ursula Leveaux – in the slow introduction to Beethoven’s Quintet, you could sense a glow of anticipation spreading through a packed Wigmore Hall.
When the Grave gave way to the Allegro ma non troppo the tempo seemed ideal, no musician hurried or dilatory. The wind-players were not afraid to bring a little outdoor exuberance to their phrases and everything was good-humoured. Not once was Beethoven treading in the footsteps of Mozart. Here he was his own man. And as Brown immediately established a flowing Andante cantabile tempo for the central movement, the composer might have been strolling through the Vienna woods. The finale had the right kind of rhythm, the kind that bubbles up irresistibly from within the musical paragraphs. It was a beautiful performance, bespeaking careful preparation and spontaneous execution.
The platform needed extensive re-dressing for Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, performed in the 1992 and 1995 arrangements by David Matthews. We also had a conductor, Martyn Brabbins, whose old-fashioned frockcoat took us back to Mahler’s time. Fortunately he was also old-fashioned enough to direct unobtrusively, merely assisting the players to keep in step with Alice Coote.
She was in good form and pretty good voice, although a mention in the programme for the Kathleen Ferrier centenary was a reminder that we rarely hear a proper contralto these days, one who can really sit on the lower notes. Truth to tell, I can take or leave three of these settings, but ‘Um Mitternacht’ and ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’ wove quite a potent spell. I enjoyed the various sounds emanating from the Nash Ensemble, especially from Gareth Hulse, who had to double on oboe d’amore and cor anglais.
Schubert’s Octet created exactly the right impression: it seemed to be expansively phrased, with plenty of room for individual enterprise; but if you focused on the basic tempo, it was never merely being indulgent. Movement after movement passed by in the pleasantest way, until suddenly we were at the end of the Minuet and Paul Watkins and Duncan McTier were launching the Andante molto to begin the finale. Then the strings went spinning away into the Allegro and we experienced that typically Schubertian feeling – pleasure in the passing moment, regret that it would soon be over and we would be facing the chill of a wintry Wigmore Street. Stephanie Gonley and Richard Hosford must be given special mention but every member of the Nash Ensemble played his or her part with grace and equanimity. This was a lovely concert in every way.