Sally Pryce Ensemble

Harp Quintet
Flute Quartet in D, K285
Danse sacrée et danse profane
Huw Watkins
Introduction and Allegro

Sally Pryce Ensemble [Sally Pryce (harp), Elizabeth Cooney & Tom Hankey (violins), Reiad Chibah (viola), Gemma Rosefield (cello), Adam Walker (flute) & Sarah Williamson (clarinet)]

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 3 March, 2008
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Sally PryceFormed in 2006, the Sally Pryce Ensemble is a flexible ensemble from three to seven players. On this occasion, the septet was heard only in the final two works, but in whichever combination there is no doubt as to the quality of each musician’s skill and that they work well together.

This attractive programme (given the auspices of YCAT, Young Concert Artists Trust) begun with Arnold Bax’s Harp Quintet (1919), the string quartet taking the ‘meat’ of the 15-minute single movement, the harp supplying arabesques and angelic commentaries. The musicians were alive to the many moods of this work – from regretful to restless, caught its rapture, and strode with certainty from earthy vigour to ethereal musing while caring for textural niceties and displaying vivid interaction. For the same combination, the first of Debussy’s dances enjoyed luminous string timbres and flecks of light from the harp, but the second one needed a more relaxed tempo to really point its rhythmic profile and the emotional over-spill of the final bars were too-dominated by the harp

In between, one of Mozart’s flute quartets, which may be inconsequential as music, enjoyed a deft and affectionate performance (led with distinction by Elizabeth Cooney) and introduced the rich tones of Adam Walker’s flute, always remaining ‘silver’ and chirruping delightfully. He, along with string trio and harp, also contributed much to Albert Roussel’s 1925 Serenade, beautifully written and musically at its best in the playfully spiky first movement and in the early stages of the otherwise too-long glacial and harmonically ‘slippery’ Andante. This work also confirmed a doubt over Reiad Chibah’s offerings, which, while finely played, were often subdued and under-balanced.

Huw WatkinsThe full complement of players gave a brilliant account of Huw Watkins’s equally brilliant Gig (2005), which over its 9 minutes pursues a fluid, getting-faster and more-voluble, then a slower and slower, becoming reflective trajectory, the ‘change’ seeming to arrive through a magician’s puff of smoke. In its ingeniousness, jeu d’esprit and grace, Gig is not only a super piece but ideal for seven friends who happen to play these particular instruments as well as those making up the Sally Pryce Ensemble do.

The least impressive performance was the Ravel. The opening perfect balance and complementing colours of flute and clarinet promised much, only partly delivered; although the cool, languid aspects were well captured and an attractive ‘airborne’ quality ensued, tempo-changes were not always indivisible and Sally Pryce made something of a meal of the harp ‘cadenza’ and elsewhere sometimes lost ‘melody’ to ‘decoration’. In music so fastidiously composed – for all seven instruments – not everything was addressed as necessary and the final flourish was not as crisply delivered or as unanimous as it needs to be.

Nevertheless, this is a group of splendid talent to seek out collectively and individually.

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